The Birth of a Chorus, by Jessica Fitzpatrick

Those of us who’ve been there know where the mind goes when the words “It’s cancer, I’m so sorry” become an indelible part of one’s story. I won’t even try to cover the possible reactions we experience, whether the news refers to us or to a loved one. But the shock passes and the acceptance slowly takes over, and the search for strength and solace begins.

For me, diagnosed with lymphoma eight years ago, the plan included bringing as much music into my life as possible. Music has always played a significant, if not always easy, role in my life. I decided then and there that what I needed at that difficult time was to sing. I joined Rising Voices, an informal singing group for patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, where I was being treated.

In one of our many discussions, I shared these thoughts with Dr. Bill Di Scipio of Fighting Chance. I also shared what I had learned from research about music and healing. I described the benefits I was experiencing from singing with the group — as well as the insanity of traveling for three-plus hours each way to sing for an hour and a half! 

Bill’s quick response was “Then let’s start a chorus here on the East End,” and he immediately went to work, seeing if it could be arranged through Fighting Chance, while I went to work on a flier that said, “If singing makes you happy, join us in song.” And the Fighting Chance Chorus was born. 

After a brief recruitment campaign that involved posting fliers and placing announcements in the local newspapers, we held our first meeting in March of 2014 at Fighting Chance’s office in Sag Harbor and set about the business of finding the right music director — not an easy task. In the end we were blessed with Dominick Abbate, who at the time was choir director and organist for the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor. The church became our home thanks to the generosity of Pastor Mark Phillips, and our first performance, in 2015, was a Christmas concert in which we got to blend our voices with the church’s vocal and bell choirs. We’ve performed with the Old Whalers group in subsequent holiday concerts as well.

The history of the Fighting Chance Chorus is dynamic. Members have sung and left and returned to sing again. We’ve sampled various rehearsal venues generously donated to us over time (the Basilica of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Southampton, Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, and Fighting Chance’s office, in addition to Old Whalers). We have been treated to variety in our musical direction and have built a repertoire that includes patriotic songs, doo-wop harmonies, songs for the seasons, and pop and old-time standards. We’ve sung at Fighting Chance fund-raisers like Swim Across America and at public events like Sag Harbor Community Band concerts and Fighting Chance holiday parties. Last month we opened for the King’s Chapel Gospel Choir in Southampton. 

We are now a core group of music lovers who bring our enthusiasm, commitment, and voices to our current home at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor each Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. (A big shout-out and thank-you to our new patron, the Rev. Karen Ann Campbell, who allows us to rehearse at the church.) 

With the help of Dominick Abbate, the talented, accomplished, dedicated music director (now with Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary), we continue to explore our musical capabilities. We are ever grateful for the opportunity supported by Fighting Chance to come together to share our love of music. 

The Fighting Chance Chorus represents much more than a singing group in fulfilling its mission as a resource for East Enders whose lives have been touched in some way by cancer. The opportunity to come together in song is a source not just of comfort but also of healing — the kind of complementary medicine shown by research to be a critical component of the road to wellness.

On a personal note, the chorus stands apart from other groups I’ve sung with. For one hour a week, we are not thinking or talking about illness, yet there is an unspoken message of shared experience and support because in one way or another, we’ve all been on the same difficult journey. We welcome you if such an opportunity speaks to you as well.

Jessica Fitzpatrick is the manager of the Fighting Chance Chorus, which will join the Old Whalers Church choir in a concert on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the church.