Finding Harmony in Healing

Lisa Nielsen and Janka Krajciova at Bryan Health.

Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra is proud to announce the launch of its new community outreach program, Harmony in Healing. In partnership with local hospitals, rehabilitation centers, memory care facilities, and assisted living centers, this project aims to impact and improve patients’ care, well-being, and environment through musical performance and personal interaction.

Spearheaded in 2017, the LSO Board of Directors designated a special Innovation Committee to brainstorm and cultivate a new project that could strengthen the symphony’s bonds with its community. From its inception, the Innovation Committee has consisted of equal parts board members and LSO musicians, and prioritizes music itself as the point of connection between the Lincoln community and its symphony.

The concept of a music and wellness program rose to the top of a list of community-based project ideas because of its human nature, its healing benefits, and its sustainability.

“The performance of music is a very unique human activity that we use to connect with one another,” says Bob Hinrichs, former LSO Board Member and head of the Innovation Committee. “That event of sharing tends to create a healing effect in people.”

Harmony in Healing presents a series of small chamber ensemble performances in various healthcare facilities and settings throughout Lincoln. So far, LSO has sponsored performances at Bryan Hospital, Clark Jeary Retirement Village, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, and multiple campuses of Tabitha Healthcare Services, with plans to expand its reach to more memory care facilities and health services in the Lincoln area.

“Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra is a 100-piece group in its entirety, but we know there are so many meaningful mediums of music with smaller groups,” says Christine Widman, LSO Assistant Principal Viola and member of the Innovation Committee. “Smaller group sizes are more feasible to come out to these venues.”

All ensembles are led by LSO musicians, and performances include a mix of classical music, pops tunes, and familiar songs. Duos, trios, quartets, and quintets can create a more intimate musical setting than the large-scale orchestral programs LSO normally produces for its concert hall audiences. As such, chamber performances provide a sustainable and accessible experience for audiences who cannot attend mainstage events. These performances allow patients to connect with each other and with performers through music and to participate in the arts in their community, even when they face long-term rehabilitations and living options.

The Moran Quintet (John Bailey, Bill McMullen, Diane Barger, Nathan Koch, and Alan Mattingly) at Tabitha Health Services.

“Having seen my parents each go through rehabilitation centers and knowing how lonely that can be—being away from the comfort of their homes and their loved ones—performing with my LSO colleagues at Tabitha was extremely special to me,” says Dr. Diane Barger, LSO Principal Clarinet. “Knowing the residents are battling illness and long rehabilitations really hit home to me, so I wanted to play my best for them. I know that our music lifted their spirits, let them reminisce about their past through stories about the music, and made them feel special.”

Research has proven that integrative medicinal techniques provide significant benefits to patients, families, healthcare workers, and healthcare facilities in the form of reduced stress, pain management, and cost savings from shorter hospital stays and a decreased demand for pain medication and staff time. In addition to the potential benefit to patients, musicians have also expressed how meaningful this project is to them. Christine Widman, for example, is not only a violist, but also a Physical Therapist Assistant, Certified Brain Injury Specialist, and Clinical Instructor at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

“Getting to talk to the patients as a musician with the knowledge of also being a therapist bridged my two worlds in a way I can’t describe,” says Widman. “A patient may be experiencing a personal journey of living with a new or existing disability, recovering from an injury or illness, or even navigating living with a terminal condition. In those moments music is brought to their hospital bedside, waiting area, or commons area, they get to transcend their illness and experience the music, even if for a short time. Music is part of what makes us human.”

During the 2018-19 season, LSO sent more than 30 musicians to perform in six different facilities across Lincoln. In partnership with Bryan Hospital’s “Healing Arts Program,” LSO has also been able to sponsor musicians to visit individual patients in their hospital rooms. This allows music to directly reach the patients and healthcare staff who feel most isolated from the outside world.

“Entering a hospital room and playing two feet away from a single patient is unique,” Widman goes on. “It’s not about the perfection of executing what the composer wrote as in a concert setting. It’s about using music as a medium to connect to that person in that moment, in whatever way is meaningful to them in their journey.”

So far, eight performances have been scheduled for the 2019-20 season, with plans to connect to new facilities and expand the program’s reach with at least ten total performances. Musicians not only give recitals, but also spend time speaking about the music and about their own experiences leading to where they are now. That connection between people is one of music’s greatest powers, and one of LSO’s greatest passions.

“The goal of Harmony in Healing is to have us as a symphony reach out into the community and create these experiences of connection,” says LSO Executive Director, Barbara Zach Lee. “These audiences might not otherwise have the opportunity to have these special experiences. We hope to use the power of music to create healing in our community.”