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Back and Forth: Mayo Gonda singers music is rewarding and healing

About 60 years ago the gigantic "Man and Freedom" statue was transported from Chicago to Rochester by Don Monson of Monson Trucking Line in Zumbrota. The 4,200-pound Ivan Mestrovic sculpture of a naked man covered only by a fig leaf rode in an open flatbed trailer. Today the big fella overlooks Mayo Clinic's Nathan Landrum Atrium, which is often filled by music.

Some of the music comes from Mayo volunteer singers —employees who simply love to sing. Hundreds of patients and families receive a certain "healing touch" as they listen to everything from traditional show tunes to favorite hymns. I personally believe their music is larger than the statue. They'll do favorite songs occasionally on request. In fact Jane Belau, playing the 7-foot Boesendorfer Grand Piano has nominated the singers for an Ardee Award in the categories of thePeoples Choice and Outstanding Volunteer in Arts. The awards will be announced Oct. 21.

Now in Jane's 12th year at the piano each Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. until noon, the voices simply find the piano. Employees, supervisors and volunteers are all encouraged to chime-in whenever time allows. It's heartwarming to watch folks in wheelchairs smile or little tots jumping up and down when singers kneel down to sing on their level. And many (including myself) can't hold back the tears when a favorite hymn is sung.

The core group of singers includes Cindy Biorn, Anthony Cook, Tom Ersland, Kathy Kerssen, Gary Ulland — who does a great "It's a Wonderful World" — and Amelia Van Handel, who is a third year med student. Others joining the group occasionally are: Raul Jalmasco, of Salix Pharmaceuticals; Kathy Schmidt; Rosemary Scott from Chatfield; Ruth Firzlof; Mark Neville; and TV newsman Tom Overlie. The list also includes: the "Elvis feller," Brad Boice; Paul Harkess, of Rochester Foundation; good old Fred Roberson of Zumbrota; Bruce Rohde; Carla Thelan Hanson, of Luther College; Maria Rasmusson; and how about this? Don Scholz, a retired physician now in his mid-90s. Wow!

A few singers shared comments with us. Kathy Kerssen said music is so important in her life outside of work and this is "the perfect fit." A lady in a wheelchair encouraged Kathy to join the singers, telling her that "God gave you a voice — you need to use it." Cynthia Biorn started singing six years ago. First she was too shy, but Jane invited her to join the group. Cindy loves music and feels it's therapy for the soul. "I feel it is my gift from God and love being able to share it with others," she said.


If you love Judy Garland's memorable "Over The Rainbow" from the 1939 film "Wizard of Oz" you'll delight in Amelia Van Handel's rendition. She's a Mayo Medical School student who listened as Jane played "The Blue Skirt Waltz," a song her grandmother used to sing when she was younger. Jane Belau's keen eye motioned her to join the group. Amelia said that singing has been one of the best parts of her Mayo experience thus far.

"Singing gives me a chance to relate to patients, meeting them as people, and they see me in the same way. This is beyond being healthcare providers and patients. We are just people trying to relate in one another and be better together," she said.

A highlight of any Gonda singers presentation is Anthony Cook singing "It is Well With My Soul." What a gift we are blessed with, spending a few minutes singing along or just listening. This group definitely qualifies for an Ardee Award Oct. 21.

Next Week:The Notochords Band soon turns 65 and still going strong.

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