VUMC choir brings holiday cheer to Medical Center
Debut performance of United Voices of Vanderbilt brings smiles to faces of patients, families and employees.December 19, 2017
Ronnie Yates leads the United Voices of Vanderbilt choir in its first public performance at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. More than 30 employees sang holiday songs for young patients, their families and hospital staff. Photo by Susan Urmy.
A tiny boy watched a group of singers perform Christmas carols and holiday hits at the performance stage at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. He sang along to every word, happily nodding his head in time. Then, during a break between songs, he yelled out, “Merry Christmas!” to the singers.
Members of the new United Voices of Vanderbilt choir responded with laughter, cheers and applause, and many said that small, joyful voice was the only thank you they needed. The choir was created by the Office for Diversity Affairs and Vanderbilt University Medical Center Human Resources to perform at various VUMC events. For this first concert, more than 30 members raised the roof with holiday cheer for young patients, their families and hospital staff.
“With over 200 people involved it is a wonderful way to get to know my co-workers that work throughout Vanderbilt. I truly believe this choir is a great example of what diversity and inclusion mean.”
“The VUMC choir idea came as a thought around the concept of building a permanent diversity and inclusion metaphorical edifice at VUMC, brick by brick from the top down and from the bottom up,” said André Churchwell, MD, chief diversity officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “I felt to create this edifice, that a VUMC choir replete with members of our VUMC community —attendings, nurses, nursing students, medical students, residents, employees, etc. — could prove useful. The choir would be a shared activity that would help promote a shared interest for all who work here.”
Dennis Wordlaw, a medical assistant at the TVC Cancer Clinic, came to sing wearing festive reindeer antlers and a red light-up nose, joining many others also wearing antlers, elf costumes and even one employee dressed head to toe like a decorated Christmas tree. Wordlaw said he couldn’t wait to join his co-workers in song.
“I sing because I’m happy,” he explained. “I’ve been singing since I was about 12 years old. I sing in my church choir, and I was in a local theater company for eight-and-a-half years. I have three co-workers who are singing with me, and this is wonderful.”
More than 200 staff, faculty, students and residents from throughout the Medical Center responded to the call for members, something that didn’t really surprise Chief Human Resources Officer Traci Nordberg.
“We wanted to bring together employees from all different parts of our organization, not only for them to do something together and to have fun, but also to serve as a uniting voice,” said Nordberg. “We have so many talented people who like to express themselves, and this is one way for them to share something that a lot of them already do outside of the Medical Center.”
Regina Hockett, executive secretary in the Office for Diversity Affairs, is very active with her music ministry at Born Again Church in Nashville, so when Churchwell asked her to help organize a choir at VUMC, she began contacting everyone she knew that might want to participate. When her email inbox was flooded with positive responses, she knew it would be a success.
“The very first time we got together, we sang “Amazing Grace,” and I got chills. It was truly amazing,” Hockett said.
The choir found a natural director in Ronnie Yates, an access specialist II for VUMC. He’s been leading musical groups for much of his life.
“I’ve been directing choirs since I was 12 years old,” Yates laughed. “I’m 56 now, and I’m still doing it. When I heard they were putting together a choir here, I was all for it. I worked at the Children’s Hospital for five years, so I know the struggle many of these kids are going through. It’s been good to bring them some joy.”
“I absolutely love to sing and have been singing since I was born it seems,” said choir member Stephanie Holt, an insurance management specialist in Patient Financial Services. “I’m super excited about the VUMC choir because it is open to all nationalities and genders, plus we are singing all genres of music. With over 200 people involved it is a wonderful way to get to know my co-workers that work throughout Vanderbilt. I truly believe this choir is a great example of what diversity and inclusion mean.”
The next performance of United Voices of Vanderbilt will be at the Medical Center’s Martin Luther King Day events on Jan. 15, 2018. The group will perform at the day’s opening event at 7 a.m. in the North Lobby of Light Hall and again just before the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Series lecture at noon, also in Light Hall.