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Mayo Clinic policy silences Gonda Singers

The Gonda Singers perform in this October 2014 file photo. From left to right, are: Jane Belau, Tom Ersland, Raul Jalmasco, Rosemary Scott, Amelia Van Handel, Kathy Kerssen, Cindy Biorn, Ruth Firzloff.

A shift in Mayo Clinic music policy soon will end the popular twice-weekly performances of the Gonda Singers.

A group organized by Rochester pianist Jane Belau, the Gonda Singers have performed informal concerts twice a week in the Landow Atrium of the Gonda Building for many years.

Now, citing concerns about employee and patient comfort, as well as safety, Mayo Clinic has decided to not allow the Gonda piano or any other to be used "as a scheduled performance venue."

Mayo Clinic Administrator Jonathan Torrens-Burton explained there always has been a policy against self-scheduled performances, but after years of problems, a new building standard was written to clarify the clinic's position. That standard will become official on April 1.

So the Gonda Singers still plan to perform through the end of March. After that, however, they most likely will go silent.


A local opera singer Carla Thelen Hanson shared her sadness about the change on her Facebook page Friday.

"I have sung for the patients many times with my dear friends, Jane and Raul, among others. I'm disappointed in the decision to end this ministry," she wrote. She also added, "Do we stop administering to the whole because of a few? I ask this earnestly for an open conversation on such things."

Torrens-Burton, chairman of the Gonda Building committee, offered more detail about what spurred the decision on Friday.

While Mayo Clinic encourages "spontaneous" performances, these self-scheduled events have grown to be unwieldy. He cited the "noise levels" and large crowds attracted by the singing as the major problems.

While some patients walk by and love the music, others might be bothered by it and complain, he said. Mayo Clinic also has many business offices and a pharmacy near the Gonda atrium.

"Between all of those, we get quite regular complaints about the noise level," said Torrens-Burton. "It's just been going on for a long time. It's just become particularly challenging."

He said Mayo Clinic has proposed alternatives to the Gonda Singers, including lunch performances in the Geffen Auditorium and having performances late in the day when less patients and employees are around. At this point, Mayo Clinic and the Gonda Singers have not reached any sort of agreement.

No one from the Gonda Singers was available to speak about the situation.


Once the new standard takes effect on April 1, people still will be allowed to play impromptu performances, but they are asked to try to limit them to 30 minutes. However, accompanying a pianist is discouraged.

"We would rather people would not sing. Of course if one person spontaneously decided to sing along, we wouldn't go tell them to stop," said Torrens-Burton.

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