The Music and Wellness Program began in 1999 when PSO violist Penny Brill was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the year following her diagnosis, she researched ways of using music to reduce her anxiety, lessen the side effects of chemotherapy, and decrease the amount of pain medication needed both during surgery and the recovery following surgery. Penny found that her experiences mirrored those of clinical researchers investigating how music could affect sickness, recovery, and overall wellness. She also observed that there were few music therapists in area hospitals and recognized a new opportunity for the PSO to share music with the Pittsburgh community in a relevant and meaningful way. Since that time, Penny has tirelessly sought to make Music and Wellness an essential part of the work of the PSO, as she describes in our video.
In April 2000, Paul Silver, PSO violist, joined Penny to give an initial Music and Wellness presentation at the Cancer Caring Center. Several months later, Paul and Penny worked with cancer support group leaders at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC and the Music Therapy Department at Duquesne University to develop a series of relaxation and visualization sessions geared toward helping ovarian cancer patients. This soon evolved into additional musicians playing for individuals in patient rooms, as well as chemotherapy and oncology radiation waiting areas, under the guidance of music therapists.
Thanks in part to the work of PSO musicians in local hospitals, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Health System hired several music therapists in 2003. Over the years, PSO musicians have collaborated with these therapists to serve a variety of individuals and groups. Musicians have provided programs for people of all ages—from infants in the NICU to seniors learning tai chi—and they have also worked with patients and their families, healthcare professionals, and medical students. Whether interacting with an individual one-on-one in a hospital setting or performing for an audience of 38,000 at Race for the Cure, PSO musicians have used their musical skills to help others lead healthier lives.
The PSO embarked on a strategic collaboration with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC (CHP) in 2009, when multiple musicians began working with music therapists and other professionals from Family Support Services to address the needs of patients, their families, and caregivers. Musicians still continue to visit CHP’s atrium, cafeteria, lobby, and patient rooms, and they take the expertise the PSO developed from its specialized, one-on-one interactions with patients and apply this knowledge on a broader scale so as to reach more people in the Pittsburgh region.
In 2011, the PSO introduced its Music and Wellness Program at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s H. J. Heinz Campus. Since then, musicians have worked with veterans in cognitive therapy groups, transitional programs, and hospice care.
In addition to continuing collaborations with CHP and the VA, the PSO recently expanded the reach of Music and Wellness with visits to healthcare facilities like Our Clubhouse, UPMC Shadyside Hospital, UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, Little Sisters of the Poor, Community Life—Homestead, and St. Anna Children’s Hospital in Vienna. Our “Music and Wellness at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra” infographic illustrates the typical scope and impact of events at these and other facilities over the course of a year. (A Word document containing the infographic text is available as well.)
Since August 2013, the PSO has also maintained this website as a comprehensive online resource center for arts organizations, musicians, and healthcare facilities. Through the website and blog, as well as recent collaborations with local yoga instructors, the symphony has begun providing programs and resources for individuals who use music to achieve personal wellness goals in their everyday lives.
Over the years, Music and Wellness sessions with the PSO have led participants to feel relaxed, good, great, calm, peaceful, and a multitude of other positive emotions. Musicians and staff look forward to many more years of improving the well-being of individuals and communities through music!