When Elizabeth Thompson first heard about Giving Voice Chorus from her music director at Washington and Lee University, an 1,800 person liberal arts college in Lexington, VA, she was astonished. She explored the web links and listened to the professional news videos. She had never heard of the chorus until her choral instructor shared a web link was shared with her. She had never been to Minnesota and had no contacts there. And yet, this chorus seemed to be a creative opportunity that fit like a glovefor her professional and personal path.
As an upcoming senior in the fall of 2019 with a neuroscience major combined with choral direction studies, Elizabeth quickly called the Minnesota chorus with an introduction to herself and her professional interests.
She recalls this initial conversation vividly. “When I reached the Giving Voice Chorus, I said, ‘I know I have to work with you. I am seeking a summer internship as a neuroscience major with a focus in choral direction. I’ve been singing since I was three years old and am the president of Washington & Lee’s university chorus as well as our section leader. My mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was in sixth grade which introduced me to the world of neuroscience. My grandfather lived with dementia in his later years and was a key influencer in my life. My goal is to bring the world of neuroscience and choral involvements together in a way that will benefit all. I want to come to Minnesota this summer and experience how the chorus is influencing the lives of individuals living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.”
This was the beginning of a dual HealthPartners Center for Memory and Aging and Giving Voice
12-week summer internship that was a win-winfor everyone involved. Elizabeth spent the summer with leading physician researchers at HealthPartners Center for Memory andAging exploring how working with intranasal procedures and brain insulin barriers may provide a significantly better understanding of Alzheimer’s. She also spent a half-day each week in Giving Voice Chorus rehearsals, singing with the chorus and getting to know the singers, experiencing the impact of music direction, and witnessing the singer social transformations that took place at each rehearsal.
“I had this unique opportunity to see both sides of Alzheimer’s – the biology of the disease and the way this amazing chorus brings joy and wellbeing to those living with the disease and their caregivers. On one hand, I learned invaluable lab techniques and worked with a stellar research team in learning about Alzheimer’s. And at the same time, I experienced the real lives of the chorus singers living with Alzheimer’s, and how they learn new music and support each other. I always saw the whole person in each chorus rehearsal – having so much fun singing, laughing together, creatively learning. It was an amazing opportunity.”
is modest about her accomplishments. She has sung in faith-based choirs, all city choirs, and all state choirs growing up in Arlington, Texas. When her mother and grandfather were diagnosed with brain diseases growing up, she began to read and explore the complexities of how our bodies and brain function. When her grandfather was diagnosed with dementia, she noticed how he particularly became interested in her choral singing. One night when she had a choral performance that he could not attend due to his illness, he asked her to dedicate her singing that night to him. He passed away the next day.
“The opportunity to work with Giving Voice Chorus and the HealthPartners research team for 12 weeks has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift. I was able to clearly see full, wholeindividuals living with
Alzheimer’s. I saw the patience, support, and humor of caregivers during weekly chorus rehearsals. As a student conductor at my university, I observed the MacPhail Center for Music’s professional music director working with the singers and volunteers in powerful, compassionate ways. This intern opportunity was a perfect combination of everything I am passionate about. I met so many professionals who are doing exactly what I love. I never want to lose sight of the impact that music
has on persons living with this disease and caregivers. It has been an absolute honor to spend the summer in this extraordinary environment.”
Next on Elizabeth’s horizon is to prepare for the MCAT (MedicalCollegeAdmission Test®) as she sets her sights on medical school and/or a profession as a bioscience researcher. But wherever she lands, this summer’s chorus experience with Giving Voice combined with a rich research learning will last forever.
Written by Barbara Greene, Health Care Consultant & Giving Voice Board Member