Music as Medicine

Sharing Notes is a small non-profit with a big heart.  Started two years ago by cellist Allegra Montanari, Sharing Notes is made up of a corps of professional musicians who perform every other week for patients of all ages in Chicago area hospitals.  The musicians perform for free, and Sharing Notes provides the service at no cost.  The mission is pure and simple: to bring the healing power of music to those who need it.  

On Saturday, I had the privilege of photographing some of the Sharing Notes musicians while they performed for patients on the oncology floors of Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital.  (For legal reasons, I was unable to photograph the patients.)

I was led first to the 14th floor where classical guitarist Jack Cimo had already started playing in a hallway.  With the exception of a few nurses, the hallways were mostly empty.  Some of the patients had their doors open so they could hear the music.  One woman invited Jack into her room and he sat by her bed and played the prelude to Bach's 6th Suite for Cello.  Unbelievably gorgeous.  

 Guitarist Jack Cimo

Guitarist Jack Cimo

On another floor, a singer Nora Byrd and keyboardist Gabriel Di Gennaro were performing pop songs and numbers from musicals.  They, too, were invited to another room and they set up just outside the door.  The woman told Nora and Gabriel about her daughter who was really into The Beatles, so they played "Till There Was You."  When they finished, the woman applauded and burst into tears, saying, "I just really miss my daughter."  It was a moment that symbolized the essence of Sharing Notes, and showed that music can give an outlet for every difficult emotion and provide a space for comfort and emotional relief.  

 Vocalist Nora Byrd and keyboardist Gabriel Di Gennaro

Vocalist Nora Byrd and keyboardist Gabriel Di Gennaro

We met another woman from Rockford whose husband was receiving treatment for a stem cell transplant.  She looked very tired, but stood in a doorway while flutist Laura Block played Bach. The woman talked about how wonderful it was that these musicians are here, and how much they help. 

 Flutist Laura Block

Flutist Laura Block

The music was striking, not just because of its inherent beauty, but because it emphasized just how otherwise quiet the floors were.  Without the music, the only sound was an occasional door opening and closing, a machine beeping, or the sound of wheels on a cart.  Instantly, every note was magnified by the silence.  Because of the tiled floors and low ceilings, the music was naturally amplified and rang down the halls.

It was a different world up there.  Yes, the views of the lake were great, but it looked like a mirage - it might as well have been another painting on the wall.  Such seclusion is necessary, of course, when dealing with serious medical conditions.  And high-powered medicine and technology are important.  But the music from from Sharing Notes added something more; it gave a moment of humanity and beauty to people who are at their most vulnerable.  For two hours, the musicians brought a concert hall to cancer patients, and it was one of the most affirming experiences I have ever witnessed.  My profound gratitude to Sharing Notes and Northwestern Hospital for making it happen.   

Click through this gallery for additional photos.