Music has the power to soothe the soul and heal the spirit, both of which need uplifting during a pandemic. At Cedars-Sinai, COVID-19 patients and cancer patients are receiving a special “dose” of music, in the form of virtual private concerts from the American Modern Opera Company.
Patient Wendy Lawson recently attended an exclusive live performance of “Le Cygne” (The Swan) by composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Lawson’s “front-row seat” was in the Cedars-Sinai Cancer infusion center, where she undergoes treatments for ovarian cancer.
“It’s extremely soothing,” Lawson said. “It creates peace within, which I think is always going to be a good thing for somebody who is going through treatment. There’s a certain level of anxiety that accompanies you each and every time, so it sort of really calms that.”
The musician who performed exclusively for Lawson was cellist Coleman Itzkoff.
“A lot of my identity as a musician, as a musical performer, is wrapped up in performance, and when that was taken away from all of us, in March, it left me and so many others feeling a little bit empty, a little listless,” Itzkoff said. “And to be able to perform live one-on-one for people has brought back all of that meaning that I once had.”
The collaboration between the American Modern Opera Company and the Cedars-Sinai Spiritual Care Department is funded through the Vital Sounds Initative from nonprofit Project: Music Heals Us. The initiative provides grants to pay musicians to perform remotely.
Interfaith Chaplain Bronwen Jones, herself a professional clarinetist and composer, launched the program at Cedars-Sinai after learning about it from a colleague. She said the program helped make a difference for one patient in particular, whose blood pressure was initially too high for them to receive chemotherapy. After 15 minutes of a cello music, the patient’s blood pressure went down enough to have the therapy.
“During the holidays, the virtual music program continues to surprise and inspire me with the power of music to lift the spirit, to fire the will to live. The intimacy of the one-on-one experience of hearing a wonderful musician perform just for you, to chat with you, deeply touches people. Some of my patients’ spirits are low, sad that they will not celebrate the holidays with loved ones, sad that COVID-19 has shut down their already limited options. When they hear the music, my patients settle into a place of peace, a stimulated peacefulness, a connection with being who they are,” Jones told the Courier.