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Beyond the concert hall – bringing music to healthcare settings.

I was delighted to be invited by Penny Brill, violist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, to present with her at the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) 50th Anniversary Conference held in Chicago last week.  Over the last 12 years Penny and her colleagues have built an extremely thoughtful system for utlizing the strenghts and talents of musicians in healthcare settings.  She has won numerous awards on behalf of her advocacy work, and continues to encourage musicians and singers to get involved in making music in healthcare settings in a most responsible way.    As is the trend in the arts these days, getting patrons to the concert hall is difficult for many organizations. Looking at new ways to bring music out and to the people benefits all who are lucky enough to be involved.

For years I have been a strong advocate for the arts in the healthcare setting.  Having been a member of the Society for Arts in Healthcare, the American Music Therapy Association, and having supported volunteer musicians and professionals in navigating the hospital setting in my workplaces, it was a natural fit for me to accept Penny’s invitation to co-present.  In so doing, I represented the field of music therapy, as well as the needs of the families and patients receiving the gift of the musicians efforts. 

At the end of the day, we musicians, music therapists, music educators, performers, music practitioners, and volunteer musicians all share the same goal of serving the patient, families, and staff.  It is very clear to me that these different players offer unique and varied perspectives and services to the consumers.  From a collaborative spirit and desire to improve the lives of those we serve, we can ALL find our appropriate place in our local hospitals and clinics.  It definitely demands sensitivity to the setting.  An understanding of what is indeed appropriate, keeps everyone feeling grounded and safe to share.  With OPEN lines of communication, we can provide a valuable service to each other and best serve our patients. 

For example, my training makes it possible for me to help a musician identify what kind of repertoire is appropriate for a particular setting.  I can act as an escort and trainer in helping performers get comfortable in the setting and know what to expect.  I can help to advocate for the needs of the staff and patients, while also advocating for the needs of visiting artists or artists-in-residence.  I can also identify a time when a family should not be disturbed, and left to their privacy.  I am not unique in this ability — it is within my training, as is the case for any music therapist with some hospital experience. 

So, it was a good week advocating for music and encouraging musicians to think beyond the concert hall.  I was excited by the questions and desire to explore this possibility by those attendees.  I share Penny Brill’s desire to make the arts accessible to people in all walks of life, including the sensitive hallways of hospitals.  Bringing beauty to the environment can be truly transformative, creating more opportunities for wellness.  The trick as a performer is in ALWAYS playing to the needs of the patients/visitors/staff as the first priority.  For the performer, this can be a dramatic shift away from the demands of the repertoire, and toward the unique needs and interests of the consumer. 

So, if you know any musicians who would like to share their gifts with someone in need, encourage them to contact their local music therapist, college of music therapy, hospital based expressive arts department, or even the american music therapy association in moving forward.  Partnering with a music therapist will help you avoid the “rookey mistakes” as Penny Brill put it, to make your visit a positive experience for all.

Until next time – keep humming a happy tune.

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