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Cambridge doctors lead virtual NHS Choir to reboot Come on Eileen

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Dr Ellie Walder and Dr Zoe Fritz, co-founders of the NHS Chorus-19. Picture: Zoe Fritz/Twitter (33447868)
Dr Ellie Walder and Dr Zoe Fritz, co-founders of the NHS Chorus-19. Picture: Zoe Fritz/Twitter (33447868)

Two Cambridge doctors have formed a virtual NHS choir to give morale a boost with a Covid-19 reboot to a Dexy’s Midnight Runners classic.

Dr Zoe Fritz and Dr Ellie Walder, both working on the Covid-19 admissions ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, have co-founded the NHS Chorus-19 and joined forces with Pembroke College director of music Anna Lapwood, who will be the musical director.

The duo have created Covid-themed lyrics to Come on Eileen with the aim of raising people’s spirits, motivating teamwork with NHS staff and the wider community, and to spread the essential safety messages to help prevent infection.

Broadcaster and conductor Anna, a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 and host of a weekly classical music show on BBC Radio Cambs, is coordinating the project.

“Zoe got in touch with me, her daughter is in my girls’ choir,” explains Anna.

“She just said ‘I’ve had this rather crazy idea. You’re probably going to think I’m totally nuts but I’ve come up with these alternative lyrics and I just think it’s a really important thing to actually try to boost the NHS staff morale a little bit and give them something else to focus on as well as what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis in hospital’.

“She was really keen that it was something that was informative as well as a bit of fun so it’s reinforcing all the messages, but in a really fun way.”

Zoe is a Wellcome fellow in society and ethics, director of clinical medicine at Gonville & Caius College and a consultant physician in acute medicine at Addenbrooke’s, but as a medical student wrote comedy sketches and sang.

She had loved the song Come on Eileen, which was the basis of the idea.

Ellie is a soprano and FY1 doctor, and currently sings with the chapel choir of Pembroke College.

She first tried her hand at arranging popular music as part of an initiative with Voces8 at school, and pursued the interest further at university as a founding member and later musical director of The Gonville Girls, an all-female a cappella group.

Anna, whose mother is a retired palliative care doctor, had been approached regarding a number of projects during this period, but this was the one that had the biggest impact.

“I realised how much it actually meant to the NHS staff and they didn’t really care about whether it was going to be something that sounded nice, they just really wanted to do something for their own mental health and to support the NHS staff network,” she says.

“It made me think that this was about so much more than just music, it’s the sense of community and everything else.

“I think what they’re doing is so difficult and it would be so easy to fixate on that the whole time, so having a project that they can work on that brings a sense of fun and community, and music is the best distraction because it is quite hard to think of anything else when you’re singing.

“It means that for the half-hour rehearsals and the 20 minutes when they are recording themselves singing it they can totally switch off from the enormity of what they are having to do the rest of the time.”

Conductor Anna Lapwood, who is the director of music at Pembroke College.
Conductor Anna Lapwood, who is the director of music at Pembroke College.

NHS Chorus-19, which is supported by CUH Arts, has got 542 signed up from across the country, including front-line physicians and nurses, GPs, medical students, anaesthetists and surgeons.

All those taking part will be sent guide tracks, an accompaniment has been recorded by the Pembroke organist and they will then send videos of themselves singing along in their headphones.

The aim is to release the music video by the end of the month to raise money for the NHS. It will also include Makaton and BSL videos to make the project as accessible as possible.

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