HCA Virginia and Richmond Symphony partnership brings inspiration, peace to patients

An audience member’s face lights up as a woodwind quartet plays the first six notes of a familiar tune, bringing most of the listeners back to fun and playful times in their own living rooms or friends’ homes. A bassoon, clarinet, flute and oboe harmonize to create this musical experience for the group.

“Super Mario Brothers!” says an audience member after a performer asks the group if anyone recognizes the tune. Sure enough, the quartet had just performed the official theme from Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers video game, a popular track composed by Koji Kondo in the 1980’s that has become a fixture over the years.

But it’s not just musical enjoyment that brings the audience to the performances, many come to find inspiration, stress and anxiety relief and relaxation through the Tucker Pavilion’s Music and Recovery program at Chippenham Hospital. In partnership with the Richmond Symphony, the program offers a holistic approach to the needs of behavioral health patients.

“Just sitting and hearing the music soothe me brought me to a more peaceful place, because earlier today I was feeling kind of frustrated and angry,” said Alex Oddo, a patient who attended the Music and Recovery program. “Hearing the music kind of just changed it for the better and definitely made a big impact on me.”

After attending the performance, several patients like Oddo say they notice a difference in their emotions overall.

According to Eli Hite, activity therapy coordinator for Tucker Pavilion, many individuals turn to music to help soothe or relax as a healthy coping skill. Music and sound therapy also has a long proven record for helping with mental health needs.

“We definitely can see when they walk in how they might be very depressed, and then you see their faces change during the course of the whole program – gradually the smiles come back on their faces and there’s more activity in their foot tapping,” said Hite. “Physically you can see a lot of changes, and then when they talk, they talk more freely about feeling much better, much more inspired and much more relaxed.”

The informal setting encourages an open environment for the audience with opportunities for interaction with the performers. A member of the quartet who introduces the piece they are about to play also provides some background on the tune such as where listeners may have heard the selection. This may include cartoons, old movies, nature sounds and familiar classical pieces. Audience members will sometimes even raise questions about the songs to ask about a certain place or memory in which they associate the tunes.

Following the performance, the patients are asked to turn in a self-assessment, which includes their feelings prior to the performance as well as after. Patients are asked to think about the impact music has on their lives and how music from the performance has influenced them.

“I like to see how the music affects people and how their mood changes from the beginning of the show to the end. It’s really fulfilling.” said Jared Davis, clarinet player, Richmond Symphony Woodwind Quartet. “Part of my job as a musician is to share music with the community. It’s also personally nice to help other people in times of need.”

Davis’ partners in the quartet include Martin Gordon, bassoon; Jennifer Lawson, flute; and Shawn Welk, oboe.

“While not a music therapy intervention, the Music and Recovery partnership between the Richmond Symphony Orchestra and HCA is successfully performing in the hospital setting in a way that is both beneficial and enjoyable for patients and staff. It has been a pleasure to review this program, and I hope it will continue for a long time to come.” said
Katherine Leonard, MT-BC, a local board certified music therapist who evaluated the program.

“The musicians love the music they play and they just love the reaction of the patients when they see it,” said Hite. “To see that mutual admiration go back and forth adds a lot to the program here at Tucker.

I think it’s wonderful to have the community come in because when the patients walk out the door, after hospitalization, they’re going back into the community. They need to have something to bring them back in for support. They need to have another tool to use to cope with, and if we can provide the community to come and do that for them, then that’s a wonderful gift that we’re giving them.”