The JCSMR choir perform at an end of year event at ANU in Canberra.

JCSMR researchers sing to a different tune

JCSMR researchers sing to a different tune

The JCSMR choir perform at an end of year event at ANU in Canberra.

In an otherwise empty basement at The Australian National University (ANU) John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), Sarah Mann is conducting the JCSMR choir through a rehearsal. They’re racing the clock before the annual Christmas concert, and Mann has the group doing vocal exercises, complete with body movements to get them relaxed and warmed up. 

The interdisciplinary PhD student working across the ANU College of Health and Medicine and ANU School of Music created the choir after some lunch time discussions with colleagues about two years ago. 

“It started along the lines of ‘you’re a singing teacher, why don’t we have a choir’ and I was like ‘OK, we’ve all got a lunch break, so we’ll do it at lunch’,” Mann said.  

“We’ve been running this choir for about two years ... we have students, staff, people not just from JCSMR but some from other schools. It’s been a great connector. 

“People in this building work really hard, and long hours. Research is a stressful occupation, so people have really appreciated just having an hour of time where we do a bit of movement, we make a few noises and then we get stuck into something completely different.  

“When people sing together a lot of barriers break down and they can become friends much more quickly compared to other activities. It’s very unifying – people join because of the wellbeing aspect but also to make friends and connect. It’s also a great break from the computer and the lab.”   

The choir performed it’s Christmas concert last week at the John Curtin School of Medical Research Centre end of year party at John XXIII College. 

Christmas carols included Deck the Halls, Feliz Navidad and Carol of the Bells

Sarah Mann leads the JCSMR choir during an end of year concert.

Sarah Mann leads the JCSMR choir during an end of year concert. (Tracey Nearmy/ANU)

Aaron Chuah, a researcher at the Andrews Group – Genome Informatics within the JCSMR, has been performing with the choir for about 18 months, but will be finishing up at the end of 2023. 

He has a musical background, playing in bands and other instrumental groups, but the JCSMR choir was the first he has joined in the 10 years he’s been in Canberra. 

"It’s been rewarding combining both work and music,” Mr Chuah said. 

“I think Sarah has set a good blend of both fun and traditional. Music is inherently tied to wellbeing and general creativity, and I found it really helped at lunch time doing something different.” 

Associate Professor Anne Bruestle, an immunologist at JCSMR, comes from a choir singing family, saying her mother was on stage while pregnant with her. 

Having grown up in Germany, moved to Canada, before calling Australia home about 10 years ago, Bruestle said she has always had a passion for choirs, but hadn’t had the opportunity to sing in Australia before joining the JCSMR choir at the end of last year. 

“When the opportunity came up to sing at the Christmas party, I took it. It’s the harmony ... I just love this feeling you get when it connects – you have your own line, your own voice, but you’re embedded in the other voices, I just love it.”  

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Updated:  19 December 2023/Responsible Officer:  Science Web/Page Contact:  Science Web