As a little girl, Dr Emma O'Brien OAM dreamed of one day becoming a famous opera singer.
Born to make beautiful music, the mum-of-two never imagined she'd become the creative brains behind Royal Melbourne Hospital's inspiring Scrub Choir.
"The concept came about at the beginning of 2020 when COVID first hit – we could see what was going on overseas," Emma, who heads up the Music Therapy program at the hospital, shares with Woman's Day.
"I've studied music all my life, including opera, so I started singing in the corridors as a way of lifting spirits across the wards.
"It broke my heart to see colleagues stretched beyond their limits, and to see so many seriously ill patients, frightened and fighting for their lives."
"The mood shifted the moment the music started! I instantly felt the staff and patients lighten up," she says.
"So, I decided, let's make music in the hallways and spread our message of gratitude to the wider world. Who knew the Scrub Choir would end up such a sensation!"
With more than 10,000 staff working at the RMH, Emma sent a shout-out for anyone keen to unite in song and pay tribute to healthcare workers far and wide.
"I expected 20 people, so imagine the shock when I got 200 eager musicians and songbirds ready to sign up!
"It's rewarding to see our dedicated cleaners singing along with our top doctors and nurses – who knew one hospital could have this much talent!" she says, beaming.
"We now have 400 members! The camaraderie is next level, and the friendships formed will be lifelong.
"Despite long hours on the frontline in full PPE, these inspiring men and women have brought so much joy to the world."
With help from Emma's former university buddy Craig Pilkington, a respected composer and founding member of ARIA award-winning band The Killjoys, they've produced a series of film clips presented in a Zoom call format.
"The response has been overwhelming – we've had more than 100,000 hits on YouTube!
"We asked each member to submit their footage virtually, either singing, dancing, or whatever interaction they felt like, and we creatively pulled it together," she explains.
"We honour all voices, and no one is cut out of the mix. In fact, the more mishmash we are, the better we sound!"
Already they've recorded a handful of iconic ballads, including the classic anthem by The Pretenders, I'll Stand By You, and Bruno Mars' Count On Me.
"We perform songs that touch hearts and provide some much-needed hope for everyone," says Emma.
"They've done the heavy lifting, so to create a platform that allows them to let their guards down and have some fun has been incredibly satisfying."
With plans afoot to expand, the hunt is on to recruit outside the RMH to form the Scrub Choir Plus and include other healthcare workers from around the globe.
"We're going even bigger with our next project. We've got something special in the pipeline, so watch this space!" she says, with her cheeky smile.
"We want the community to know we're always here for them, and through our music, extend our gratitude for all the people working in healthcare worldwide.
"I guarantee if you're having a bad day, our music will bring a smile to your face! It's been a tough couple of years, but at least we know we're here for one another – no matter what."
Meet the choir!
"The Scrub Choir has helped me de-stress, relieve anxiety and remove myself, even if only for a brief moment." - Ana Suto, infection prevention nurse
"The RMH Scrub Choir is a place of refuge. It's one of the things that's sustained me in these times." - Maria T Leanor, nurse
"While it's hard to hear each other talk through masks and face shields, we can easily hear the singing and music!" - Liz Virtue, support services manager
"The hospital environment can be cold and tough, but singing in Scrub Choir helps usher in empathy and humanity. It lifts the spirits and warms the heart." - Dr Benjamin Sutu, trainee
"I joined Scrub Choir as a way for me to give joy and hope to my colleagues on my ward." - Jasper Castillo, nurse unit manager
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