Music and Medicine: Collaboration between Medical School and School of Music leads to a First-of-Kind Class

Image Source: Leila Navidi, Copyright 2019, Star Tribune

The tranquil sound of the flute floats throughout the entire University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center (CSC), reaching staff, physicians and patients- drawing them in. 

“It is absolutely wonderful,” said David Garcia, who was at the CSC with his mother for her appointment when the music started. “It’s healing.”

David was one of many who stopped to watch and listen, as Megan Reich, a first-year master's student at the University of Minnesota School of Music, played. 

“People can be here for so many reasons, and some of those reasons might bring stress or anxiety, but to have [Megan] playing here during appointments, can completely change the mood,” said David.

The start to something great

Megan is one of several music students who perform various instruments (piano, flute, violin, piano, cello) for patients in the lobby of the CSC as part of the new class called “Music Outreach in Healthcare Settings.” The class was created as a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Medical School and the School of Music in the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts.

Now having just wrapped it’s second semester as an official class, the concept has actually been years in the making. It all started with a conversation between Michael Silverman, Professor of the School of Music and Music Therapy Program Director and Jon Hallberg, MD, Associate Professor in the Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. The two proposed a volunteer opportunity for music students to play at the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic, where Hallberg is Medical Director.

“We have amazing world-class musicians and we know music can be helpful. We wanted to bring their music to a wide audience who might not typically have access to it, in a nontraditional venue,” said Silverman.

“We found that patients loved it,” said Hallberg. “It also had a great effect on providers.”

The two collaborated on a study about the experience which dives into the effect that the classical performances had on the staff and providers, titled “Staff perceptions of live classical music in an urban medical clinic: A qualitative investigation” and published it in Musicae Scientiae in 2017.

But Silverman noticed that the experience also had a profound impact on the students, and thus “Music Outreach in Healthcare Settings” was born.

“We couldn’t have done this without the Medical School,” said Silverman. “We are so grateful for this partnership.”

An experience worth repeating

Megan Reich signed up for “Music Outreach in Healthcare Settings” the first semester it was offered- Fall of 2018- to gain a new perspective in performing. The Clinics and Surgery Center is very unlike the traditional concert halls she is used to.

"I'm used to there being a ‘wall’ between the audience and myself, but there is none here- there is even interaction while I am playing. I have to be open to a wide range of responses," said Megan. “I also have to make choices on a day to day basis, sometimes in the middle of a set, of what to play and how to play, depending on the mood and feel of the clinic and patients.”

The first semester of the class, the average number of patients actively listening to each performance was about fourteen patients per performance, and the average amount of interactions per performance were around two. The students received consistent positive feedback from patients, staff, and the music volunteer coordinator at the CSC.

The experience has led Megan to grow as a performer- so much so that she decided to enroll in the class two consecutive semesters. Apart from gaining a lot herself, she says she also enjoys what she is able to give.

“A clinic setting can sometimes be stressful- you might be waiting for news, or waiting for a ride at the end of a long day. Knowing that I can give those people something else to focus on, even for a short time, is really important to me,” said Megan.

Megan performed flute an hour each week at the CSC.

“Seeing the impact my music has had on those around me during this time has inspired me. It’s given me a new perspective on my career and made me realize there is a lot more I can do with my music than I think I realized.”

Photos republished with permission of Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN.

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