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The Oklahoman | OKC woman, singing isn't just enjoyable, it's essential to her well-being

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Russ Florence: For OKC woman, singing isn't just enjoyable, it's essential to her well-being

For someone who’s seen so much darkness, Donna Smith sure brings a lot of light into the world.

In April 1995, Donna’s best friend was killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. In 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In November 2022, she lost her adult son, Tyler.

Yet, in considering her life, Donna is grateful. “I’m blessed with what’s around me,” she says.

Such an outlook hasn’t come easy, nor is she oblivious to the pain. Donna has a particularly potent form of therapy: She sings.

Forty-two years ago, Donna joined OK City Chorus, an all-women’s singing group. She was a stay-at-home mom with two boys under age 3.

“I needed something for me,” she says. “It was something I gave myself — to lose myself in.”

Over the years, she discovered that singing isn’t merely enjoyable. It’s essential to her well-being. The act of singing and the sisterhood with her chorus friends have sustained her. The Oklahoma City bombing was “a horrible, horrible time,” she says. Treatment for breast cancer was scary. After losing her son, she felt “totally ripped … it would be easy to roll up into a ball.” But Tyler wouldn’t want that, she says. And the singing brought her a happiness she didn’t think was possible.

“When you sing together in harmony, you bond,” she says. “The ladies in the chorus wrapped themselves around me. It was a big part of my healing process. Are you having a bad day? Music can help you get through it. It can bring comfort and peace.” My path crossed with Donna's recently through Allied Arts. The organization has kicked off its campaign to raise $3.73 million for local arts organizations. Listen to their stories, and you’ll realize that art’s healing nature isn’t just from observing it — it’s from engaging it.

The Oklahoma Opry provides free guitars and lessons for veterans as part of their therapy. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art partners with SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital on a therapeutic art program for kids with behavioral and emotional issues. Aspiring Attitudes gives people with disabilities the opportunity to dance.

Donna feels like she has gained more from OK City Chorus than she has given. She feels incumbent to pay it forward.

“Any light or beauty that you can bring into the world is important,” she says. “You have to open your eyes to beauty.”

She says singing has made her a better mom, wife and friend. It lifts her up in a way that nothing else can. She encourages others to find their creative outlet. It benefits everybody.

“It’s hard to be there for others if you’re empty yourself,” she says.

Going on 71, she’s cancer free. She has grandchildren. She’s coaching other performers ― something she never thought she could do.

“I’m not alone in my sadness,” she says. “I’m glad I have something that brings joy to my heart when my heart needs it. How lucky am I?”

Russ Florence lives and works in Oklahoma City. His column appears monthly in Viewpoints

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