EL PASO, Texas – When classical musicians perform in local hospitals, both the players and the patients find it to be good medicine.
“It’s about being a healer, because the music is designed to soothe and heal and when you see that there is a change in the status of their health,” said Felipa Solis, Executive Director of El Paso Pro Musica.
Performers with Pro Musica are going beyond the concert hall to bring classical music to the people, which UTEP masters cellos performance major Amy Miller said helps her as a musician to build a connection her audience.
“I think that playing for people is very important because, you know, you’re in a practice room for hours at a time and you’re playing for yourself but when you have that time to share with someone else and connect with them in that way,” she said “You know, music is an unspoken language, it’s universal.”
Solis said that playing music for hospital patients is an extension of the groups’ mission to make classical music accessible to all.
“Patients in the hospital from the beginning of life in the neonatal intensive care unit to the end, are given music for comforting reasons and it’s really amazing to see,” Solis said.
Pro Musica last performed for breast cancer patients at the The Hospitals of Providence on Sunland Park Drive. Miller said she plays a lot of classical music during medical visits, but also likes to mix it up with some familiar tunes from Broadway and movies, such as Beauty and the Beast and The Wizard of Oz.
“Pieces that they’ll understand and know and sing to and have that relationship with, I know they would enjoy beautiful music but it becomes a deeper level of knowing the song, the familiarity of the song,” Miller said.
The use of music to help in the healing process has been around for centuries, but began to emerge as a professional practice in the 1940s, according to the American Music Therapy Association. In addition to Pro Musica performances that offer opportunity to connect with classical music on an informal level. Others, like Chaplain Eduardo Henningham of Hospice of El Paso, have seen the benefits of music in all stages of life.
“I see a lot of change, especially those that, what we call ‘long term patients,’ or patients that are going through the dying process. I get expressions with those who can talk, I get expressions like “you made my day,” I can see what I call “enlightening” in their face… music helps them bring back a little bit of their memory and some of them really repeat part of the lyrics, some of them will really sing parts of the lyrics, and for me those are really life-changing.”
Solis said the program incorporated more community outreach efforts since Grammy Award-winning Zuill Bailey became artistic director in 2000.
“Everything has changed in such a great way in that the organization is much more education based,” she said. “What’s been exciting, is the fact that we can engage all the artists that we bring into the community and the region and take them to schools and have them engage with students even here on campus to do special master classes and such.”
Pro Musica musicians playing occasional sessions at local medical centers have received positive feedback, Solis said.
“You can actually see, and the doctors will attest to it, the music and the sounds, the soothing sounds of the cello actually stabilize heart rates, stabilize oxygen levels and basically you don’t hear a pin drop.”
The performances feature UTEP graduate music students.
“We work closely with the students here on campus. Amy Miller, there is a student named Ivana Biliskov and Chris Bureaus Haggis, they are all graduate students in the studio of Zuil Bailey here at UTEP and so we have a lot of other students here on campus who come and perform and want to get out in the community and share their gifts and talents,” Solis said.