The Power of Music
By Pam Windsor | Photography courtesy of Musicians On Call
Musicians On Call bring performances to patients in hospitals throughout the country and leave with smiles and sometimes healing.
There is something truly beautiful about the healing power of music.
Over the past two decades, Musicians On Call artists have performed for nearly 850,000 patients, families, and caregivers in hospital rooms all over the country. These artists range from some of the biggest names in the industry to lesser-known singers and musicians, all volunteering their time and talent to share the gift of music.
“I can talk to you all day about the benefits of music and the research that’s been done,” says Pete Griffin, president and CEO of Musicians On Call. “But when you walk into a hospital room where a kid is battling cancer and his or her parents are there, you know it’s literally the worst day of their life, right? And then a volunteer starts playing music and within minutes everyone is smiling, singing, and dancing. You know you’ve given them a break from the heaviness and the sadness. And it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
The non-profit organization initially started in New York but is now based in Nashville. It was co-founded by Michael Solomon and Vivek Tiwary, both of whom had lost loved ones who had undergone treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The two were music fans, so they brought in Grammy-winning musician Wynton Marsalis to perform a concert of healing for patients. Marsalis performed in the common area and the response was so positive, they followed it up with concerts with other artists.
The duo soon realized, though, that some of the patients who could benefit the most were unable to leave their rooms so they began taking performances bedside. When they saw the “magical” effect it had, they decided to create an organization that would allow them to take live music into hospital rooms.
With the help of donations and a network of volunteers, Musicians On Call provides performances in children’s hospitals, adult facilities, veteran hospitals, and hospices across the country. Support comes from performers like Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Darius Rucker, Kelly Clarkson, Jason Derulo, Nick Jonas, Pharrell, Rachel Platten, Lauren Alaina, and many more.
Griffin says those artists have seen the difference music can make. “I was in a hospital here in Nashville and Keith Urban was performing and he said, ‘I play a lot of big shows in stadiums and arenas, but honestly, if this was all I did, I’d be the happiest man in the world. There’s nothing better than playing one-on-one for someone who you know really needs music and really needs a pick-me-up.’”
As Musicians On Call has become more well-known, a growing number of hospitals have asked to be part of the program. To help meet the demand, a couple of years ago it began adding virtual performances. Performing remotely allowed artists to reach more patients. The idea was ahead of its time. It was already in place when the coronavirus pandemic hit, requiring everyone to quarantine.
“When everyone else was getting shut out of hospitals, we were probably one of the only programs still able to operate because we had the infrastructure,” Griffin says. “And during this time, the demand increased because not only were patients dealing with being in the hospital, they were dealing with isolation because they couldn’t have visitors. In many cases there were kids battling cancer and only one of their parents could come to the hospital.”
During the pandemic, Musicians On Call performed for nearly 10,000 people a month, up from the usual 5,000 to 7,000 people a month.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving with one example after another of music’s power to heal. One recent performance for a young patient in California featured the girl’s favorite singer, Andrew McMahon. His performance came after a miraculous breakthrough.
“A while back, this patient was in a coma and non-responsive,” Griffin explains. “Nothing was really working in terms of bringing her out of it. So, the music therapist at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital said let’s try music therapy. She asked if there was any music the patient was a fan of and her mother said her first concert was her favorite band and there was an artist there named Andrew McMahon.”
The therapist suggested they play one of his songs.
“The next thing you know,” Griffin says, “she starts to cry. So, fast forward a little bit and we recently had him play for her via livestream. She still has a long road to recovery, but she’s improved and she was awake and responsive. So, we were excited to be able to connect her to this artist who literally helped her out of a coma. And that’s just one story, I can tell you a thousand more on the power of music.”
While research shows music can have a direct effect on how people manage stress, alleviate pain, improve tolerance, blood pressure, and outlook, those with Musicians On Call believe the benefits stretch even beyond that.”
“So many times parents will come up to me afterward and say my son or daughter has been fighting cancer and they haven’t smiled or laughed for weeks, until today,” Griffin says. “When you get that kind of feedback you want to keep doing it. This is really helping people’s lives.”
To donate or learn more, visit musiciansoncall.org.