September 21, 2020

David Hansen is a doctor, pianist and composer. His gift of music is lifting spirits, including in the COVID unit.

He has made his songs of healing available to patients in Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital

David Hansen began playing piano when he was 6, and says that music is as essential to him as breathing. 

Years ago, one of David Hansen’s patients had an idea for him.

Hansen is an associate professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt, and the patient, who was prominent in the music business in Nashville, knew that in addition to being a cardiologist, Hansen is a composer and pianist.

“When I woke up in the ICU,” the patient told him after heart surgery, “I could have used soothing music.” He said Hansen was uniquely qualified to compose that music, given his presence in both the worlds of medicine and music. “You know and understand patients,” he said.

“I originally wrote the music to help my patients, but when I saw the positive impact it had on them, I wanted to provide the same comfort and healing to patients isolated in the COVID unit.”

Hansen did not enthusiastically embrace the idea — at first.

“I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do that,” he remembers.

But then the idea tossed itself around in his mind, and he began sketching out some ideas, and, fast forward to now: “I went from ‘I’m not so sure I want to do this’ to 21 songs.”

That has now grown to 40 songs, and they are available online and on two CDs, “Songs of Healing” and “Tranquility.” Patients who have had access to the music, with titles like “Spiritual Strength,” “Coping,” and “Unbreakable,” have used it as part of their healing for several years.

Now, Hansen has worked with others at VUMC to make the music available to patients in Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital, including the main COVID unit in Medical Center East.

“I contacted Dr. Jeff Balser [President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine] about making a gift of my music to patients in the COVID Unit. He enthusiastically endorsed the idea,” Hansen said.

The “healing music” icon appears on TV screens in patient rooms, making it easy for patients and their families to enjoy.

“When Vanderbilt started receiving COVID-19 patients and restricted visitors throughout the hospital, it was clear to me that the isolation would have a devastating impact on the patients, their families and their caretakers,” he said. “As a physician, I desperately wanted to help.  I originally wrote the music to help my patients, but when I saw the positive impact it had on them, I wanted to provide the same comfort and healing to patients isolated in the COVID unit.”

On the unit

The Rev. Sherry Perry, M.Div., a chaplain who works on the COVID unit, attests to the power of Hansen’s music.

Even when Perry was first using an empty patient room to test receiving the music, the staff on the floor responded.

“I put it on play and the staff would walk by and say, ‘Where’s that music coming from – that’s nice,’” she said.

Perry tells of one patient in his mid-60s who listens to the music in his room, and whose mother, who visits him every day through the glass of his room, is greatly comforted by knowing that her son is hearing such healing sounds while he recovers.

“She feels it has a positive effect on him,” Perry said.

Another patient was a music professor, composer and pianist who loved piano music and especially related to Hansen’s artistry.

Music is as essential as breathing

Hansen said that his love of music was encouraged by his parents from an early age.

“I grew up in a small town and my mom and dad weren’t really musical,” he said. But they quickly recognized their son’s talent.  He received a piano for his 6th birthday and they found teachers who could nurture and encourage his gift. One of them was Azar Gordon, who taught at the Julliard School and who also gave lessons to a few private students, including young David Hansen.

“I’m fortunate that I was born with perfect pitch. That’s a gift that has helped me along the way,” he said.

Hansen began writing music in his early teens, studied music (and, in a nod to his future career in medicine, chemistry) when he went to Amherst College in Massachusetts, and completed a thesis consisting of his own compositions.

“Music brings me great joy and it’s as essential to me as breathing is to everybody else,” he said. “A day without music doesn’t seem complete.

“I believe that music is a powerful therapeutic modality that has a unique role to play in the comfort and care of patients.”

To visit Hansen’s page to read more and hear his music, go here.