Most people don’t think of a hospital cafeteria as an entertainment destination. But if you happen to walk through UW Medical Center’s Plaza Café on the right day, you might be surprised by what you hear. On one sunny afternoon last June, for instance, patients, visitors and staff were treated to the sounds of jazz fusion.
“The patients were hooked up to IVs and in wheelchairs, nodding their heads and tapping their feet,” says Karen Neuhard, UW Medical Center’s art program manager. “It’s not something you anticipate, being able to see a live music performance when you’re in a hospital.”
The concert is part of a program called Musicians at the Med, created by fourth-year medical student Christine Wang. She brought the kernel of the idea with her from UCLA, her alma mater, where the medical and music schools worked together to produce concerts. She was also inspired by her piano teacher.
“I started taking piano lessons with Joanna Hodges when I was 5, and she became a constant presence in my life,” says Wang. “From practicing up to five hours a day, to performing monthly piano pieces, to yearly recitals, and in competitions, she was always motivating me to be better, to strive for more. When Joanna passed away a few years ago, I lost someone very dear to me. But, at the same time, it reminded me how important music is in my life, and how much I wanted to bring it to others.”
After sounding out faculty at the UW School of Music, Wang began recruiting student musicians. One had a grand vision for a 30-person orchestra; another, who directed a chamber group, was interested in bringing a small ensemble. Both visions were realized, with the chamber group playing the program’s first café concert and a 30-person orchestra performing at the Magnuson Health Sciences Center in May 2017.
Now in its second year, Musicians at the Med is hitting its stride, with approximately one free afternoon concert per quarter (with maybe more to come). Wang uses her musical connections to secure performers, while Neuhard spreads the word and handles the day-of details. Students choose what they want to play, and they receive community service credit for performing.
Musicians at the Med is just one of several programs at UWMC that provide patients with emotional support and a creative outlet. “We also offer music and art therapy at the bedside, which can play a very powerful role in the healing process,” says Neuhard. “We’re trying to give people a constructive, positive way to process what’s happening while they’re here in the hospital.”
Although she still practices, Wang hasn’t had time to perform at Musicians at the Med. But she’s building up her repertoire: Chopin, Rachmaninov, Schubert. And something a bit more modern. “I absolutely love the Romantic period,” she says. “And Maroon 5 is always one of my go-tos.”
Wang plans to pursue a plastic surgery residency after graduation, but she’s working hard to make sure the program continues bringing music to patients in the future.
“As a medical student, I work long days, and I know that it’s difficult when patients are scared and they can’t leave the hospital,” she says. “Music is a way to connect people, give joy and provide a glimpse of hope.”