Virtual choir a welcome respite for B.C. doctors
VANCOUVER -- In March and early April, as the COVID-19 pandemic was accelerating in British Columbia, the tension in local hospitals was palpable.
Dr. Carolyn Shiau works in the department of pathology at Royal Columbian Hospital. She recalls the facility being much quieter than usual, even as some departments were busier than ever.
"Everybody seemed on edge," Shiau said in a recent interview with CTV News Vancouver. "It was just a very heightened level of stress in the hospital for everybody."
Around the same time, as physical distancing restrictions, school and business closures and other measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus came into effect, one of Shiau's main venues for stress relief - membership in Phoenix Chamber Choir - shut down.
In one way, that shutdown has continued. The Vancouver-based choir still isn't holding in-person rehearsals, following the advice of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
In another way, however, the choir never stopped meeting. Soon after rehearsals stopped, they got together online, and ended up recording coronavirus-themed parodies of popular songs, starting with Queen's classic "Bohemian Rhapsody."
"It originally started as a fun project because we had to cancel the rest of our season," Shiau said.
In the video, she can be seen singing in her scrubs, harmonizing on lyrics like, "Is this a sore throat? Is this just allergies? Caught in a lockdown, no escape from reality."
She said the video was mostly a joke, but it caught on, and inspired additional sessions, including a parody of Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time," which has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube.
"I think it was just topical and it kind of struck a chord with people," Shiau said. "As soon as people saw the first one, they wanted to do a second one."
Phoenix Chamber Choir has continued to meet regularly for virtual singing sessions, and the choir is now helping other groups with the technical aspects of holding rehearsals online.
Last Monday, Shiau participated in the first rehearsal of a women-only physicians' choir, which had more than 40 people on the call.
"It allows them to have a break from medicine," she said. "Many of them have not sung since high school."
Digital choir practice has also been a welcome break for Shiau during the pandemic.
"For me, it's two-and-a-half hours every week where I see some really good friends who don't want to talk about medicine and also just want to make something beautiful together," she said. "That is kind of unbelievable. It's like my yoga for the week."