Mass General’s ‘Virtual Bedside Concerts’ bring healing power of music to isolated patients

BOSTON — Musicians are bringing comfort to patients through a concert program at Massachusetts General Hospital aimed at relieving isolation and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Virtual Bedside Concerts program began seventh months ago, connecting musicians with patients for private concerts through Zoom.

Dr. Kathy May Tran, who leads the Happiness Committee at MGH, helps run the program. Tran says the concerts provide a kind of therapy medicine cannot, at a time when family members often cannot visit and doctors and nurses have their faces covered by layers of protective gear.

“As a doctor, this is my expertise. I take care of hospitalized patients. I take care of patients with Covid every day, but despite that, honestly, a lot of times, I feel helpless,” Tran said. “I don’t have a cure for Covid the way that I have a cure for other diseases. And I certainly don’t have a good treatment for the anxiety and fear and loneliness and worry that these patients feel.”

Through the program, healthcare workers bring donated tablets for one-on-one concerts to the besides of patients on both a Covid floor and a respiratory support floor – where patients are on ventilators long-term but not necessarily at the end of their lives.

The concerts are on a weekly basis and last about an hour, allowing for both music and conversation.

“[The musicians] are spending their time, giving the healing power of music to these patients,” Tran said. “It’s invaluable, and it’s certainly not something I would be able to offer, were it not for this program.”

Enchi Chang, a musician and a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, co-founded the virtual concert program with another student. Having been pulled off her clinical duties due to the pandemic and without the ability to perform, she decided to give back in another way, modeling Mass General’s concert program off the New York non-profit Project: Music Heals Us.

“It’s been a huge success. We’ve had multiple concerts where we have also been able to bring in family members from all over the United States, kind of letting people enjoy music all together,” Chang said. “For patients and staff, music kind of brings a moment that’s different from the monotony of the hospital life and some life and some joy to the environment there, too.”

Musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops and across the country have participated.

One volunteer, Luther Warren, a Boston-based professional violinist and student at the New England Conservatory of Music, shares his love of Bach with patients.

“It’s a strange time to be a musician, and it can feel very irrelevant,” Warren said of the lack of opportunity to perform for an audience. “This was something I was thrilled to be a part of, to use my profession to connect with people in a very timely, needed way.”

Harold Nasson, 89, of Somerville, does not have Covid-19 but has been hospitalized at Mass General for weeks. With family all around the country and limits to visitation, the music and conversation are priceless.

“We had a virtual concert with a beautiful guitarist from Argentina who played some Bob Dylan and some other songs that my father enjoys and plays himself when he was playing the guitar,” Nasson’s son Steve told Boston 25 News. “I think that really helped him connect with her and carrying that forward for days to come… They’re long days in the hospital when you’re bedridden and you’re not walking. So I think these types of moments can really help get him through the day.”

While the virtual concerts were initially one-on-one, the first concert to include family members was about a week before Thanksgiving, as Tran was caring for a patient dying of Covid-19.

Hospital restrictions prevented family members from visiting for their own safety. So, Tran and others coordinated a special concert that included about 12 family members who later said their final goodbyes.

In the following days, over Thanksgiving weekend, musicians Warren and the Laven-Meyers family – professional cellists and flautist – brought music to the bedsides of 20 patients, 65 family members and dozens of healthcare workers, Tran said.

The music is therapeutic for hospital staff, too. Doctors and nurses are also experiencing isolation, working long days away from family, and feeling the effects of so much loss.

“This program is as much a benefit to patients and families as healthcare workers,” Tran said. “It’s really nice to have this reprieve, because we are quite burdened during the pandemic with all the sadness around us.”

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