Nurse Practitioner Jenny Chacko, who grew up in the Bronx and now works in the pre-surgical testing unit at Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, has always loved to sing. “I grew up singing in church, but I never thought I’d sing professionally,” she said. But that was before the formation of the Northwell Health Nurse Choir which has taken her to Los Angeles, to perform on America’s Got Talent, to Madison Square Garden, and to a Dec. 6 program titled “A Joyful Noise” at Carnegie Hall.
It all began with plans for a 2020 Thanksgiving Day fundraiser concert, on behalf of the Nurse Heroes initiative, a nonprofit to help solve the global shortage of nurses. Northwell Health invited all its nurses to audition for the virtual event. “We were asked to submit thirty-second tapes, and from them 48 of us were chosen. We recorded the parts at home and they were put together for the Thanksgiving Day concert,” Chacko recalls.
The concert was available on YouTube, which is how America’s Got Talent came to see it and invited the choir to audition for the TV show. Because of Covid restrictions, the original 48 had to be cut down to 18 – 13 women and five men – and the group finally met in March of this year, to prepare for rehearsals for the April audition, which was aired in June. “Northwell held a watch party at Citi Field, and we felt like celebrities.”
But that was only the start. Having returned to work and life as usual, the choir found itself rehearsing in Los Angeles for live shows in August. “Although it was surreal, somehow it wasn’t terrifying,” Chacko remembers with a laugh, “it was just really fun. We are like a little family and very quickly it all felt normal.” Their success was viewed by millions, as they received the Golden Buzzer from judge Howie Mandel and later snagged a Top 10 spot in the show’s finale.
For Chacko, it’s not the fame and fireworks she remembers. “We were all so grateful after the year we’ve had, to be forced to have time away, actually being around people, and singing.” She’s been working at Phelps for two years, “And I love it. It’s so happy and friendly, everyone knows each other. It has all the benefits of a small, community-oriented hospital with all the resources of a large one.”
Fame on television led to a slew of requests for the choir to perform elsewhere, and it has since appeared at sporting and healthcare events. The choir sang the national anthem at a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. Rehearsals have to be fitted in around a full-time job, which can be difficult, although it helps that singing time counts as work time.
The choir will make appearances in 2022 as well, although Chacko doesn’t know the details yet. But that’s fine: “I can’t say how good it’s been. I never was that confident about singing, and I’m pretty shy about performing in front of people, so being part of a choir has been perfect for me.
“And I’m extremely grateful to Northwell for supporting this and so very happy to be a part of it.”