At the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., it is not uncommon for the crisp, clean, soothing sound of an acoustic guitar to echo down the hallway.
Patients, their families, and medical staff members alike light up when musicians come in to sing. Patients’ smiles grow, their eyes widen, and they sometimes dance along to the beat of the songs from their hospital beds.
Courtney Butcher, a 17-year-old patient suffering from chronic stomach pain, was particularly excited about her personal musical performance because, she admitted, “I like all music.”
It’s all part of a program called Musicians on Call, whose mission is to bring music to the bedsides of patients too sick to leave their hospital beds. The program exists in numerous health care facilities in six different cities: New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Nashville.
The program relies heavily on local musicians. There is, however, a handful of more famous, celebrity musicians who are active participants.
Darius Rucker, of Hootie & the Blowfish fame, is one such volunteer.
Having recently embraced the country music world, he performs mostly in the “music city” of Nashville.
"The singing stuff, that’s cool and it’s my job, but I really enjoy when … Musicians on Call, or the children’s hospital down in Vanderbilt or Charleston [calls]," Rucker said. “I love doing that stuff.”
Rucker says his success in the country music world fits perfectly into Musicians on Call because “the storyline of country music…it's such…emotion filled music. The storyline's always about kids and families and stuff like that.”
Thirteen-year-old Brooke Kreger, who has been in and out of the hospital since Christmas, thought Rucker was “awesome” and that his performance was “really good.” Her father, Tony, was thankful because Rucker’s performance broke up the “monotony of the day.”
The performances have physiological benefits for patients, too, including “pain control, lowering blood pressure, and lowering stress,” said Leslie Faerstein, the executive director of Musicians on Call.
The emotional benefits are evident, too, in boosting the morale of patients, their families, hospital staff, and even the volunteer performers.
A faithful believer in music therapy, country musician Randy Houser is also a Musicians on Call volunteer in Nashville.
“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s healing power in music,” said Houser. “Music has always been very therapeutic for me.”
Faerstein continues to see the benefits of the program as it expands.
“Once somebody does it, and they hear about it from another musician, they realize what an incredible experience it is, not just for the patient, but for the musician, him or herself,” Faerstein said. “It really affects everyone.”
Rucker does admit it can be difficult sometimes.
“I've been in a couple rooms where the kids were real sick,” Rucker said. “I've walked out of rooms where…you really have to stop for a second … so you don't go in the next room crying.”
Nevertheless, he and many other talented musicians across the country, continue to go back and share the joy of music with the patients.
“It’s one of those things that when you do it…it’s amazing,” Rucker said. “And when you’ve done it – you can’t – you don’t say no.”