September 7, 2007

Program brings healing power of music to patients

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Musicians On Call volunteers Tiffany Goss, right, and Sarah Gunsolus greet patient Pat Brennen as they make their rounds on the eighth floor of Vanderbilt University Hospital. (photo by Neil Brake)

Program brings healing power of music to patients

Matt Jenkins plays a tune while visiting patients at VUH. (photo by Neil Brake)

Matt Jenkins plays a tune while visiting patients at VUH. (photo by Neil Brake)

Healing sounds fill the hallways of Vanderbilt University Hospital via a group of “on-call” musicians volunteering their services to patients in need of a song played at bedside during their stay.

Musicians On Call (MOC), a non-profit organization with programs in New York and Philadelphia, opened its first national chapter recently in Nashville by partnering with Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Cultural Enrichment Department.

“To me, I think it is a no-brainer,” said MOC Program Director Katy Brown. “Nashville is Music City, so there are musicians everywhere to volunteer to play. And we also have the premier health care landscape that makes this a logical move.”

Singers, songwriters and instrumentalists perform room-to-room three days a week for Vanderbilt patients — Wednesday in the adult cardiology unit, Thursday in the adult surgical unit and Tuesday afternoons on the transplant and dialysis floor.

The local program has contributed songs to 700 patients, families and staff since mid-June; the national program has reached 88,000 persons since its inception, with special visits from artists such as John Mayer, Avril Lavigne, Chris Daughtry and Gavin DeGraw.

It is another piece of a much larger and growing picture that is fostering a close relationship between VUMC and Music Row, with a lot of give-and-take between medical resources and music.

“The bigger picture is that Vanderbilt truly has embraced the idea that music heals,” said Tatum Hauck, VUMC's manager of Music Industry Relations.

“Music therapy is now a very vital part of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. Music therapy, as a healing mechanism in children, has just been gangbusters — it has been huge. Now we are trying to figure out ways to grow the program.

“On the adult side, because we don't have a music therapy program there yet, Musicians On Call was a very natural addition to our adult hospital and our growth and belief that music heals,” Hauck said.

Vanderbilt's Office of Music Industry Relations aims to help build long-term relationships with the music industry, Hauck said.

“We're not just saying 'Hey, give us money' but saying, 'We have a great health care facility here, let's raise the magnolia curtain to figure out ways we can help each other,'” she said.

With the help of Hauck and Music Row, Brown already has her MOC program booked solid until the end of October. Nashville's on-call list now features 11 guides and more than 30 musicians.

The list will continue to expand as the program reaches new floors and new buildings on the VUMC campus.

Guides and musicians fill out an online form to show their interest in volunteering and submit a Web site address that includes song samples. Background checks and immunizations are required for guides to work in the hospital, just like any other employee.

Brown cautions her volunteers to avoid songs with profanity, songs that are about religion, or songs that allude to violence or physical harm.

MOC Director of Volunteers and Programming Michael Hill said his group doesn't promote itself as having a medical agenda, but the response has been unanimous that there are wonderful by-products of this entertainment.

“I think it has a relaxing and calming effect on everybody, whether that is the patient or the people who have been sitting in the room for a long time and maybe everyone has run out of new topics of conversation. It livens everybody's day,” Hill said.

The experience can be just as beneficial to the musician.

“The process works both ways,” Hill added.

“Every time our musicians leave I think they are really moved about what their simple act can do. I think they walk out of there a better artist and a better person as well.”