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Music for Musing During the Holidays
An oncology nurse finds his own way to bring comfort and support to patients.

blank Katie Bell
The songs on Ron Noecker’s CD are “not necessarily the pieces you’d play at a party, but they’re good for meditating on the meaning of the season.”

Music has a powerful effect on human beings. It can increase brain activity and summon decades-old memories in an instant. Ron Noecker believes that music has healing properties, too, and this Christmas the nurse in medical oncology created a CD to give to Hopkins’ cancer patients.

Although Noecker is not a professional musician, he majored in music education in college and, like his 11 brothers and sisters, began taking piano lessons in childhood. Growing up on a farm in northeast Nebraska, “I got my piano practice in before I went out to the barn to milk the cows.”

Noecker does not have a traditional nursing background. He spent 18 years as a Catholic priest; then, during a sabbatical in Guatemala, he felt it was time for a different calling. Someone told him about the Hopkins Nursing Web site, and he came to Baltimore in 2005 to get his degree here. A professor suggested oncology, and he felt like the specialty would be a good fit.

A year ago when the holidays were approaching, he met a patient, Betsy Ann Zaborowski, who was blind and dealing with the end stages of cancer. “In the last months of her life, she taught me so much,” says Noecker. “We shared common beliefs, and one day she asked me to sing a chant, ‘Of the Father’s Love Begotten.’ I began singing little songs to other patients and then I thought, It would be nice to have some mulling music, music to think about what it means to celebrate Christmas and to be struggling with cancer.”

The idea for a CD was hatched. Then Noecker went about enlisting support from more than 70 sponsors—family, friends and Hopkins doctors and nurses—to fund the project. He recorded it this summer in Nebraska and produced 800 copies to give away this Christmas.

The holiday season is especially difficult for cancer patients, says Noecker, because “people have expectations and, all of a sudden, every ritual they used to make part of their Christmas celebration has changed. They’re having to face a dilemma: Is this my last Christmas? What does it all mean?”

The selections on Noecker’s Healing Songs at Christmas, many of which are set in minor keys, do reflect an introspective mood. Noecker performs vocals and plays piano throughout. He even employs some of his 32 nieces and nephews to form a chorus.

On Dec. 4 at noon, Noecker will perform songs from his CD at this month’s Art of Healing concert in the Weinberg Ceremonial Lobby. His niece, 11-year-old Madeline Noecker, is traveling from Lincoln, Neb., to perform a solo. “Her parents and all of her grandparents are coming, too,” says Noecker.

For information on Ron Noecker’s CD:

Mary Ellen Miller



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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