This Is Us

Nurse captures gold making sweet music

By Christer Osterling

Obstetrics nurse Laurel Strielkauskas is a founding member of the award-winning Millennium Magic Chorus, part of Sweet Adelines International.

For almost 40 years, Laurel Strielkauskas has been an obstetrics nurse at MidState Medical Center. Since 1990, she has been part of Sweet Adelines International (SAI), the largest musical educational platform for women in the world. In 2000, she helped found the Millennium Magic Chorus, one of 500 SAI choruses and 2020 Worldwide Small Chorus gold medalists.
How did you get your start singing?

I sang in school choirs and church from elementary school through college. Then I found barbershop. In the 1990s, Meriden-Wallingford Hospital (now MidState) put on a show called “Scandals” to raise money for the hospital. I joined the Sweet Adelines after seeing an article about them in our local paper. I went to their rehearsal, auditioned and have loved it ever since.

What is your favorite song to sing?

Early on, we did Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” our signature song. Currently, I enjoy singing “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” from Broadway’s “Roar of the Greasepaint – Smell of the Crowd.” It really speaks to our chorus’ drive and it’s fun to sing.

Which musicians inspire you?

I have an eclectic love of music. The Carpenters were an early influence. I sing bass in chorus and Karen Carpenter’s velvety bass voice always inspired me. The harmonies from the early days of The Beach Boys and The Osmonds also caught my ear. Today, I admire artists from many genres. For a capella, there’s a group called Voctave. Check them out!

What do you like most about singing with Sweet Adelines?

The camaraderie and friendship is immeasurable. There are songs all Sweet Adelines know, so at any convention, you can sing familiar songs with singers from around the world. Being part of SAI is more than just a hobby … it’s a kinship of life and sharing the love of music.

Is it a family affair?

My two daughters have competed at events with me. The oldest, Stacy, who works at MidState as a delivery room tech, is currently part of the Millennium Magic Chorus.

Chris Rakoczy

Piano gives technologist ‘release’

By Brenda Kestenbaum

Jordan Schweidenback takes a moment to lighten spirits before Christmas by playing a seasonal tune on the piano in the Education and Resources Center at Hartford Hospital.

While in Hartford Hospital’s Education and Resource Center (ERC), photographer Chris Rakoczy heard live music emanating down the hall and discovered Jordan Schweidenback tickling the ivories on the piano. We had a chance to catch up with Jordan, a nuclear medicine technologist in radiology.
How long have you been playing the piano?

I did not begin playing the piano until I was 15 years old, so I’ve been playing for 14 years.

How did you get started?

Most musicians learn piano before moving onto another instrument. I was backwards. I began playing guitar at eight years old and fell in love. When I was 15, I was bored and decided to play piano since it is so versatile — you can play as an accompaniment to other instruments/vocals or solo.

Do you have a favorite genre or style?

I was classically trained in piano so my favorite genre is classical. I enjoy the Romantic period so composers such as Tchaikovsky and Chopin.

How often do you play?

I go through phases — sometimes I play every day for months, sometimes I do not play for months. Playing more often is certainly a goal. The picture was taken when I went to get fit tested (for personal protective equipment). I played in the ERC during orientation and decided it was a good time to take a moment to step back, rebalance and share some light.

What do you enjoy about playing piano?

It is transformative, cathartic and releasing. At the end of a stressful day, I will sometimes go home and play for hours, getting lost in it.

Are there parallels between your job and hobby?

There are many parallels between my job as a healthcare clinician and playing piano. The first is the hard work and training it takes to perfect the practice, but also how the practice is never complete and you are always learning. Secondly, piano requires patience and hard work, similar to caring for others; discipline and dedication are required to care for others at the highest level.

Hartford HealthCare might be where we work, but when we asked you where you find fun, relaxation or deeper meaning in your lives, we were astonished at the variety of hobbies and activities you pursue in your spare time. Here are a few of those stories, and we’ll have more in upcoming issues of Moments. To share your hobby, email

Jeff Evans

Off-duty, nurse enjoys fiddlin’ around

By Emily Perkins

MJ Pharmer, a surgical nurse at Windham Hospital, plays with her group at a hospital fundraiser.

MJ Pharmer spends her work days working as a surgical nurse in the Windham Hospital operating rooms. The work can be stressful and precise, but Pharmer found a way to let loose in her off time with a fiddle in one hand and a bow in the other.
How long have you been playing?

I started playing fiddle in 2013. I was driving and saw a sign for a six-week, free class and thought why not. I love all kinds of music but never played any instrument before. I decided I had nothing to lose.

The class was given by the Old Fiddlers Club of Rhode Island, America’s longest continuously run- ning fiddle club. I was probably the only one who never played a musical instrument before. Not only did I have to learn about the fiddle and bow, I also had to learn to read sheet music.

And after the class?

I found a fiddle teacher and started weekly lessons. I also found weekly jam sessions to join. This one class ended up changing my life. I made a new circle of friends and have new appreciation for all that goes into making music. Practicing becomes a welcome escape from the day-to-day routine. When I fiddle, that’s the only thing on my mind.

Where do you play the fiddle?

Weekly lessons gave way to Monday night jams and I joined The Quiet Corner Fiddlers. Before COVID-19 we played at local restaurants and at farmers markets, private parties and other community events in Connecticut and Rhode Island, including the Woodstock and Brooklyn fairs with the Old Fiddlers Club of Rhode Island.

What are your favorite types of music to play?

We play all types of fiddle music including waltzes, Yiddish fiddle, Irish, Finnish, as well as traditional American. My favorites are tunes in off keys as found in Klezmer.

Two-wheeling across Big Sky country — and elsewhere

By Elissa Bass

The Rev. Mary Horan takes a break from her bicycling trip through parts of Montana.

As East Region director of spiritual care, the Rev. Mary C. Horan, MDiv/BCC, spends her days bring- ing comfort to patients, families and employees. She finds personal release on two wheels, peddling her bicycle alone or with friends. We asked her what she loves about cycling.
Would you describe yourself as an avid cyclist?

Given the circles I ride in, where plenty of people do a lot more than I do, no. But, if I tell you I have three road bikes and two mountain bikes and that sometimes I ride 250 miles a week — 3,000 miles a year — then yes.

What’s the attraction?

I love going places on my bike. It’s a way to be out in the world and really see the country. When you’re on your bike, you’re up close to where you are and where you are going. It’s very meditative in a way, because you’re out in nature. And, you meet the most interesting people on cycling adventures.

Where have you traveled?

My first trip 25 years ago, I wanted to see Oregon, so I signed up for Cycle Oregon and rode from the Idaho border to the coast. I did the first AIDS ride in Texas, 750 miles. Last year for my 60th birthday, I cycled in Montana — 400 miles in five days — to benefit Yellowstone National Park. I’ve ridden in France and Belgium where they have the classic races. I was at the World Championships in Ontario and riding the circuit one day before the race started. We were climbing this hill and there were all these photographers with giant cameras taking pictures. They thought we were racers!

Any spectacular crashes?

No, but I have an embarrassing one. I was training for the AIDS ride and a friend invited me to join his Sunday morning ride. It’s all men and they ride fast. We’d gone about 10 miles, came to an intersection and stopped. All of a sudden, I forgot how to clip out of my pedals and I fell over in the middle of the road. They were all racers and I was lying there thinking, “Oh my God. This is so embarrassing.” Many of them became dear friends and training partners, but, what a start!