Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Launching Longwood Symphony on Call

Longwood Symphony on Call: In addition to our orchestral concerts at Jordan Hall, we've added a new program, "Longwood Symphony on Call," which was inspired by conversations we had with Dr. Lex van der Ploeg and Dr. Reid Leonard at Merck Research Laboratories - Boston. MRL Boston has been a great supporter of our work. This year, they were particularly interested in helping us develop new ways to share music with our community. Thus, LSO Musicians on Call was born.

Each month, small groups of musicians from the orchestra will travel to clinics, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and hospices to play for patients who might not otherwise be able to hear our music. While we've been sending musicians to visit hospitals on an ad hoc basis for many years, the grant from Merck gives us the opportunity to create a much more organized, coordinated program that can touch many more lives.

In November, the program began with two performances at two of the Hearthstone Foundation's Alzheimer's assisted living facilities. Hearthstone runs eight facilities, four in Massachusetts, and four in New York. Each living center incorporates the arts into its work with residents. Last week, a string quartet of musicians performed at the Hearthstone in Marlborough. This week, a flute quartet traveled to Hearthstone at Heights Crossing, an assisted living facility in Brockton, Massachusetts for an afternoon of music.

Music for Alzheimer's: Longwood Symphony's December concert will be a collaboration with ARTZ: Artists for Alzheimer's. This program, which is incorporated into many aspects of the care of the residents, provides visual and musical arts opportunities and also conducts research to further the study of the positive effects of the arts on senile dementia. ARTZ's program director is the remarkable Sean Caulfield, who joined us in Brockton for the performance. His observations of the effect of our music on the patients were invaluable.

It was a poignant day for Dany, Peter, Marty and myself. As we played, each of us could not help thinking about our own close family members living with Alzheimer's. But it was also uplifting.

We performed music of Mozart and Haydn, followed by Broadway tunes and old favorites from the 1940s, inviting our friends to join in a sing-along. They sang music from their memories.

Sean observed residents who had lost their ability for coherent speech who were able to sing the correct words to the songs we played. Others clapped in rhythm or tapped their fingers, as if playing the piano again. Afterward, we met a resident who had once been a college professor, but who was now no longer able to express herself with the words that had been her life. When Sean asked her if she had enjoyed the music, she only smiled, with tears running down her face, and gave him a hug.

Once again, music transcended language, and minimized disease. The music not only healed the patients but healed us, the healers, as well.

On December 6, 2008, Longwood Symphony will perform Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony to support the work of ARTZ. Some of the residents from Hearthstone will travel to Boston to hear that performance.

Next steps: In December, Longwood Symphony's Musicians on Call will be very busy: we'll perform in four locations: an assisted living facility for patients with multiple sclerosis, Boston Medical Center, The Women's Lunch Place which is a safe haven for homeless women, and Childrens Hospital Boston.

As a doctor, I have found the most difficult moments with my patients and families are also the most rewarding and transforming. Each time I am brought to the edge of my emotions, on the verge of tears, I remember that this is why I became a doctor and continue to practice medicine after 25 years. It is a privilege to feel and share this depth and intensity of humanity with others.

Sunday's visit to Hearthstone brought us to that familiar edge. What a gift to be able to see the direct and profound impact of music on our audience and to remember that even when other aspects of the mind are lost, music remains.