Sunday, October 4, 2009

Music Community

Musicians on Call: Have a heart, but not the knowledge of the healing power of music

I learned about an organization called Musicians on Call, who donate live and recorded music to hospitals. The mission statement reads: "Musicians on Call brings live and recorded music to the bedside of patients in healthcare facilities. Musicians on Call uses music to promote and complement the healing process of patients, families and caregivers."

While this might be a heartfelt effort, what I could glean from the organization's website was that the music provided falls into country, rock, and pop music. There are no sound healers or music therapists on the board of directors or on the staff for this organization. This concerns me because country, pop and rock music might actually interfere with the healing process with invasive lyrics, a back beat (with pop and rock), which would not be beneficial to someone suffering from a heart condition. And some rock music might cause depression, either from nostalgia or negative/angry lyrics in some cases.

Also by glancing at the companies mentioned under staff and board members, it seems that this is the music industry's attempt to do good by helping hospital patients with music. Yet, from my own experiences as a music journalist and musician, the music industry is the last place I would expect healing effects of music. Though maybe it brings excitement to hospital patients when a well-known musicians shows up to perform at their bedside. And it is a musician's way of giving back to the community, but I would suggest instead musicians perform at benefits to raise funds for people without health insurance, if they want to assist patients. Leave the bedside music for the experts in this field.

Of course, if Yo-Yo Ma showed up at someone's bedside that would be a different story, since cello music can be healing, especially Bach's music. Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan also has experience and intuitive talents to perform bedside music.

I think that Musicians on Call, might have good intentions, but without discernment of what a hospital patient truly needs, untrained bedside musicians could cause more harm than good to a patient's wellbeing. The staff and founders of Musicians on Call need to research the healing effects of music, and what types of music bring the most comfort to a recovering patient. While popular genres of music bring familiarity to a patient, I think that acoustic, instrumental music works best. Slow, simple and soothing music would be best for eliminating the stress caused by hospital settings. I would recommend vocables instead of lyrics, and that the musician follows the flow of the patient, instead of playing hit songs or what they feel like playing. This is not about giving autographs to hospital patients, but building immune systems in a toxic environment and providing relaxing music so patients can get well rested.

Musicians on Call needs to ask, if what they are doing is best for publicity for well-known musicians and kudos for themselves, or if they truly desire to assist hospital patients in their recovery. Then the staff and founders of Musicians on Call need to interview the experts such as Joshua Leeds, Marjorie de Muynck, music therapists, founders of bedside music schools and others familiar with patients' needs in a hospital setting.

And I encourage any sound healers, trained bedside musicians and music therapists to contact this organization and see if they can steer it in the right direction. Yes, music can do wonders in a hospital setting, but the wrong music can cause more harm to a patient, especially one with a fragile heart.

Threshold choirs have performed at bedsides of patients and also in hospices. To learn more visit,

For more information about Musicians on Call, go to

In review--Wailing Winnipeg

The Wailin’ Jennys
Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House
Red House Records

Anyone who has listened to a recording or attended a concert performed by Winnipeg’s The Wailin’ Jennys, knows that it all ends too quickly. The sweet strains of harmonies that the trio of women vocalists, (Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse), have the ability to amaze and thrill. Then add the fiery bluegrass fiddle of Jeremy Penner, and the listening pleasure must be repeated a few times in order to feel completely satiated from this a cappella and accompanied music.

Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House (Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania), offers both, a live concert and a recording. And listeners no doubt, will press the repeat button to enjoy an encore performance of these 14 delicious tracks. The recording not only offers a clean and crisp sound, but the musicians create a warm and inviting atmosphere with a little bit of on-stage banter and a beautiful delivery of previously recorded songs and some luscious covers. New member, alto and bassist Heather Masse chips in two of her penned tracks, Driving and the quaint Paint a Picture.

The opener, Deeper Well (Emmylou Harris), led by Mehta starts off the listening experience on a fiery note. Moody pounds out a rollicking Celtic rhythm on a bodhrĂ n (frame drum), and Penner’s fiddle solo draws much deserved applause half way through the song. And the harmonies thrill as well. Then the musicians slide into George and Ira Gershwin’s infamous Summertime. This song has been covered by just about every traditional or jazz musician out there, though the Jennys’ interpretation is the best I’ve ever heard of this song.
Other gems include, Masse’s Driving in which she leads off with a story about her boyfriend going off to work on an organic farm, as well as, Glory Bound, Arlington, Begin and a frolicking Racing with the Sun (Ella Jenkins), which combines bluegrass, Vaudeville and swing. The album closes with Moody’s spiritual ode, One Voice.

I am not a fan of bluegrass or country western music. In fact, I often find myself running away from all, but the virtuosos that perform this music. However, the Jennys’ eclectic collection (folk, bluegrass, country, blues and jazz), touch my heart. I find this music incredibly healing on so many levels, and I like to call the Jennys’ songs “tension tamers.” Certainly I pop this trio's discs into the player every time I experience another migraine coming on, and lo and behold, the headache disappears after a few tracks.

I don’t know what water Manitobans are drinking, but judging from the sweet-honey sounds that radiate from Winnipeg’s Wailin’ Jennys, I wonder if a movement for peace will hail from this region of the world. Granted, I know little about the Canadian province, except that it’s flat prairie land that dips below zero degrees in the dark winter months. Fortunately, for the Manitobans and the people residing in Winnipeg, they have the Jennys to keep them toasty warm and add some light to their lives.

Red House Records