Eastman School of Music, URMC bring music to those who need it most

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ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) —Patrick Peralta plays soothing music at Strong Memorial Hospital, to rooms of tense family members, some of whom are waiting for their own family members to come out of surgery.

Peralta is a doctoral candidate in classical guitar performance at Eastman School of Music. He’s participating in the Eastman Performing Arts Medicine program, with support from Friends of Strong.

He signed up not knowing what to expect from a couple of appearances at the hospital per month, but finds the experience different, and rewarding.

“This is the most unique experience I’ve had,” Peralta said. “It’s less formal than a recital hall, I’m here for them. [I’m] playing music in a way that I haven’t before. It’s sort of laid-back, it’s somewhere between a recital hall and your room.”

EPAM is a program that connects Eastman students with medicine, the hospital, and the community. The program started three years ago when the university wanted to work with Strong. Fast forward to last year, when Dean Jamal Rossi at Eastman appointed Gaelen McCormick to lead the program, much to her exuberance:

“I don’t think he finished the sentence before I said yes, I was so excited.”

McCormick was a performing bass player in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra until the end of 2016, until a condition called Meniere’s disease rendered her deaf in both ears. She needed a new way to direct her creative and musical energy, and to pass that passion along.

“I think the opportunity for us artists, and as a performing artist for the RPO, I could only affect people on stage,” McCormick said. “I could only share my passion in that one way. And I thought: ‘This is new way for us to train artists to be good citizens in the community, to give her career paths to students at the Eastman school, and also to deeply affect the community in a totally new way.'”

This opportunity doesn’t just make the students better musicians.

“It challenges me to be really aware of how the audience is feeling about things, not just me playing my big recital piece,” Peralta said. “This is me providing something for everyone else.”

But also opens a new career path.

“We’ve got students now that are graduating and moving off and saying, ‘I can do this, I can go to a hospital, a nursing home, some kind of rehabilitation center, and i can offer my gifts, and I know the framework to help another community, and integrate arts into healing,'” said McCormick.

The effects of the music performance can be profound, as receptionist Elys Pagan sees everyday.

“The families absolutely love it, especially in this area where people are waiting for surgeries, family members in surgery, it can be a little difficult and hectic, and stressful, and it be a great therapeutic way to release their stress,” Pagan said. “People want to feel that they’re appreciated, people want to feel that they are welcomed, especially in this sensitive time.”

For McCormick?

“It’s hard to even put it into words, what it means to me, honestly. I feel like the opportunity to connect people with art, in a moment when it’s not expected, can be tremendously supportive. It’s just something that hadn’t occurred to me before. It means that I can transcend my own training at Eastman of just understanding where to put my fingers on the bass, and understanding how to make music with other people, and really transcend that into what music means on a really big level, it’s opened my thinking about both music and medicine.”

Going forward, McCormick wants to see this program become a role model for other hospitals large and small, across the country.

EPAM also gives back to musicians and artists in another way, by going beyond providing care as a result of the rigorous physical and mental regiments of artists — many of whom practice two to six hours a day outside of classes, but by implementing wellness and awareness structures to Eastman’s rigorous academic programs.

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