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Former doctor sings through sickness – and her music is coming to Truro

Rose Johnston mostly taught herself how to sing and read music.
Rose Johnston mostly taught herself how to sing and read music. - Contributed

Composing music is Rose Johnston’s way of answering the timeless question, ‘Who am I?’


Music has always touched Rose Johnston deeply.

It was her lifeline through years of illness that forced her to give up her job as a family doctor.

Today, she has a repertoire of songs, some of which will be performed by the group Sanctuary during Songs for the Season of Love at St. Andrew’s United Church in Truro on Oct. 27.

“I call it a musical, spiritual journey of ‘Who am I,'" said Johnston, 65. “To share the music with others has been a surprise and a delight. That is why I do this.”

Painful bouts of fibromyalgia and Lyme disease forced Johnston to give up medicine in River John 13 years ago. She was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia in the mid-1990s, a disease that causes muscle and bone pain as well as fatigue and memory loss.

Johnston suffered two winters of unexplained weight loss and at one point thought she had cancer.

Either way, Johnston needed a reason to live.

“I thought I was dying,” she recalled. “I needed something and so I made a decision to find a piano teacher to work with me.”

Enter David Pos, a retired elementary school music teacher, who now directs the choir at Pictou United Church.

Johnston also taught herself how to sing and compose music, using self-help books.

Finally, on June 18 last year, the church choir sang one of Johnston’s songs, called, I Love You. She wrote it 10 years before.

Soon after, a group of musicians organized by Pos sang a song for Johnston’s partner Muriel Agnes. It was to celebrate their 25-year anniversary of being together.

“I was over the moon, as the expression goes,” said Johnston. “Music is an expression of my personal and spiritual journey.”

The music Johnston composes deals with themes of social justice and activism, as well as spirituality and love. She also tackles women’s and workers’ rights.

On Nov. 1, her song,Tender Heart, will be featured on the Women of Substance music podcast.

Asked about her musical career’s progress, Johnston said she was “excited and delighted.”

Showtime for Songs for the Season of Love is 3 p.m. on Oct. 27 at St. Andrew’s United Church, 55 King St., Truro. Johnston herself is not expected to sing, but she will be present for the performance of her music.

Tickets are $15 for individuals and $30 for families, but people also have the choice to pay what they can.

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