- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - When College of the Holy Cross junior Tiffany Holland’s pre-med course load gets to be too much, she heads to the psychiatric unit at St. Vincent Hospital.

But she’s not there for a bed. With her violin and a few fellow student-musicians in tow, she’s there to help soothe patients’ souls with music.

“I think music is so special. It can reach out to people in a way words cannot,” said Ms. Holland, who started playing violin in fifth grade.

“Pre-med makes it easy to over-focus on academics,” said Ms. Holland, who hails from Austin, Texas. “This provides balance. When I came here, I really wanted to continue my violin, but I found that it might be too demanding to join an orchestra on campus.”

Longing to satisfy her dual desires to play and to help people (she’s majoring in psychology), Ms. Holland reached out to Christine Case, volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent. She was thrilled to learn the psychiatric department had been considering seeking students to play music to patients. Soon, Holy Cross Music Therapy was born.

The group has been recognized as an official organization at the college, with Ms. Holland coordinating logistics and Nicholas McKenzie, band director, serving as faculty adviser. The group’s 10 members take turns participating in the twice-weekly, hourlong visits to St. Vincent, where members have entertained with voice, violin, guitar, ukulele and more in a common space in the locked unit.

“It worked out nicely. It’s grown,” she said, adding that St. Vincent hopes to expand the program to its new Cancer and Wellness Center.

“We play anything. The patients really love it when we play popular music,” Ms. Holland said, citing the Beatles and Katy Perry.

“Sometimes they request country. They really like the fiddle music because they can dance around to that. Just last week we were playing a very upbeat song, and this man who had just been sitting there jumped up and started twirling around like a ballerina and grabbing others to join him. It was great to see everyone so alive and happy.

“I like to look at classical music toward the end; it’s more soothing,” she said, adding that the department chairman mentioned that patients have less trouble falling asleep after listening to classical music.

It should be noted that none of the members is a trained music therapist.

To earn music therapy credentials, one must complete an approved bachelor’s or master’s program and then sit for a national examination.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can benefit mental health in myriad ways, from decreasing anxiety and agitation to providing the means for safe emotional release.

“I feel that I’ve seen patients really experience some emotions when we play some of the more classical music,” Ms. Holland said. “They really feel it. For some of the patients, it may be their first time to really hear stringed instruments, especially that close.”

Shannon Kennedy, an occupational therapist in the Behavioral Health Department, said she has seen a reduction in anxiety among patients who listen to the music.

“Some patients won’t ask for PRN (‘when necessary’) meds as much,” she said.

Asked if patients ever have negative reactions to the music, Ms. Kennedy recalled an incident last year when a patient with paranoid schizophrenia became anxious during a particular piece of music. After a few minutes in the unit’s tranquility room, he was able to rejoin the group.

Ms. Holland said the visits to St. Vincent often go beyond music.

“We like to sit down and talk to them (patients). A lot of times they’ll ask us more about our lives. I think they’re just genuinely interested, especially since they’re dealing with the same group of people day in and day out,” she said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide