Lifting spirits with the power of music

HOUSTON Every Thursday in rooms where families await word on the outcome of an operation, the tension is broken by song.

In hospital corridors and patients' rooms, a cappella voices replace the silence.

The men behind the music are members of the Salvation Army Harbor Lights Choir. Their mission is to serve as ambassadors of hope, which they've done in concerts around the world. Their weekly calling is to uplift spirits at Methodist Hospital.

"It makes them feel even though they've been down and not feeling good that the music lifts up their spirit to give 'em hope that everything's going to be okay," Mike Walker, a member of the Harbor Lights Choir, said.

It's a special group of singers -- nearly the entire choir is made up of people the Salvation Army helped recover from substance abuse. One exception, though, is Willy Thornton, a heart patient once serenaded by the choir. Now he's a member.

"When we come in and we see the smiles on the faces of those that couldn't move, shakin' their feet or their hands, it does something for us," Thornton said.

Methodist Hospital opened its doors to the choir three years ago. Now Thursday has become the most popular day of the week, and the performances one of the most popular volunteer programs. As much as the songs, it's the people singing.

"I think the sweetest thing is they really don't know how they're touching people," Mandy Guest, the Methodist Hospital volunteer coordinator, said. "They don't have an agenda."

And that's the heart of a gift. It's given freely, and to patient Harriett Vincent it means a lot.

"It's not just the music, but it's the spirit," she said. "It's good medicine."

The Harbor Lights Choir has a new CD out called "Songs of Mercy" that features gospel and inspirational music. It's available for sale at the Methodist Hospital gift shop, among other places.

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