There are times when even healers need healing. This is one of them.
Music as Medicine is a new initiative designed specifically to offer such healing to health care and frontline workers battling physical and emotional fatigue, fear, stress, and/or isolation from family during the coronavirus pandemic. It operates under the umbrella of Keck Medicine of USC’s recently launched Care for the Caregiver program, which addresses foundational issues such as safe shelter and having someone to talk with honestly. Approaching workers’ diverse needs from a different angle, Music as Medicine provides comfort and inspiration.
The initiative developed out of brainstorming sessions held to determine what could be done to further support employees at Keck and Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center — both located on USC’s Health Sciences campus in downtown LA — as well as Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, USC Care clinics, and USC’s student health centers.
Sierra Madre resident Lauren Hoerchner, a music-loving senior director for risk management at Keck Medicine of USC, was tapped to coordinate, and a “Calling All Musicians” flyer soon began making the rounds soliciting two- to five-minute videos to be uploaded to a secure Keck intranet site. Each one opens with an encouraging message for health care workers and ends with a song or two. Students at USC Thornton School of Music were the first to respond, including second-year classical guitarist Francesca Boerio and piano performance major Shelby Wong, the daughter of health care professionals. Hoerchner says they just received another set of Thornton videos directed at children that can be used by Keck employees and their spouses with their families.
“It’s really become a magical venue to create a community sense and involve musicians that are also struggling, in a different way,” Hoerchner notes, referring to how many artists are home without work since the pandemic shutdown canceled their gigs. “They can provide their talents to people who really are appreciative and can find some joy in that. We’ve had some messages — ‘Hey, I know it’s hard, hang in there,’ or a message of gratitude — that bring smiles to employees’ faces, knowing that they’re able to continue this fight. The song either directly relates to the musician’s message or it’s uplifting.”
Irish-born, Pasadena-based songwriter and comedian Owen Dara wrote a song about Covid-19. Members of the LA Opera dedicated a Mother’s Day concert to healthcare workers, and three opera singers also offered “their amazing voices,” Hoerchner says, singing various pieces. So far submissions have been mainly classical, but Hoerchner says they’re “looking for anything. We just want to keep the intranet site constantly updated with new, fresh material so people can go back for more music therapy.
Carly Rae Jepsen, area guitarist Darryl Marini, keyboardist Rees Finley, jazz-rock veteran Jim Wright, and the USC Marching Band are among the other artists who have contributed. So far submissions have been mainly classical, although three musicians are planning to collaborate on a Beatles medley. Hoerchner says they’re “looking for anything. We just want to keep the intranet site constantly updated with new, fresh material so people can go back for more music therapy.”
Clicking on a Care for the Caregiver button on the intranet site, accessible only to Keck Medicine of USC employees, directs them to that program’s resources for housing, mental health and emotional well-being. That includes the Music as Medicine page, where videos are housed and organized by genre.
While Music as Medicine cannot post videos online, artists have “full rein” to post them to their social media accounts, Hoerchner says. “We can track views and likes, kind of like on Instagram. If the musician feels comfortable posting on social media and they tag us, they get traffic from us and we get traffic from them.” She adds that the videos are also being integrated into staff and leadership meetings to spark energy and help everyone “reflect and connect together.”
“Just having this music space to provide moments for our employees,” she says, “whether they’re on the frontlines and really feeling the burn, or some are remote and also feeling loneliness — it’s something we all can get around. You’re in health care for a reason, and it’s been a wonderful initiative to set up.
“We’re actually asking musicians on the [submission] form if, after the COVID-19 crisis, they’re interested in working with us in other ways, maybe directly with just patients. Our employees could really use a musical hug, as it were; that’s our scope right now. But we would love to continue the efforts even after COVID-19 with the new friends we’ve made in the musician world.”
Musicians who would like to participate in the Music as Medicine program should email a request for a submission form to Hoerchner at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading “Music as Medicine entry.” All genres are welcome, as long as they are family-friendly.