Monday, April 13, 2009

LSO on Call: A healing experience for the Whole Community

by Lisa Wong, M.D.
A thought occurred to me last Saturday afternoon, as I made my way through the rain to the warm and sunny little room that is the Child Life space in Boston's Shriners Hospital for Children --that some might find it curious that on a day off from the hospital, so many of us are instead returning to the hospital.
The reason: To play music for the kids.

The answer is more complex than that, and summed up in the motto of the Longwood Symphony, that we are "Healing the Community through Music." It's because the healing goes both ways: healing for the patients, their families, yes. But also for the caregivers and musicians themselves.

On April 11, six musicians spent an afternoon with the children of Shriners Hospital, sharing music and laughter and a bit of themselves. I got to go along for the blog.

First, the musicians introduce their instruments: "This is a viola. It's a litttle bigger than a violin, sounds a little lower, and is even more fun to play!"

"This is a flute. It's called a "woodwind" even though it is silver, because the first flutes used to be made of wood, and the name stuck."

Then they introduce themselves:
"I'm studying the heart."
"I'm studying the brain and the nervous system."
"I'm doing research on cancer."
"I used to be a dentist, then I started a school for little children to learn the violin."

"I am a pediatric intern and I remembered visiting this hospital when I was a medical student. I always wanted to come back to play for you."

And finally, the real magic begins. The musicians share music, first in duo combinations-- two violas, two violins, flute and violin--and finally in larger groups of four and five.

Then they invite the children to touch the instruments, learn how the music is made, and be a part of the music-making themselves.

Stephanie Clark, a Shriners Child Life specialist and Music Therapist, (also a French horn player), explains to us that the kids are from the Honduras, Peru, and Boston. Some have spent months in the hospital as they recover from their burns. Others have been flown in and out of their home countries over many years for the multiple revisions necessary after severe burns.

While the hands and faces of these youngsters bear the painful scars from another day in another place, on this day, their smiles, enthusiasm, and curiosity lifts us all: patients, families, caregivers, and musicians alike.

That's Healing our Community through Music.