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Sunday, October 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Fair
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Arts Beat: Thanks to Sound Health at the UW, music is medicine
Once more with healing
Perkinson brings musicians to hospitals.
Perkinson brings musicians to hospitals.
Credit:John Schaffer

A University of Wisconsin-Madison program is bringing live chamber music to hospital patients, families and staff.

Sound Health's first performance was in February 2010. Since then it's offered 35 performances at UW Hospital & Clinics and American Family Children's Hospital.

"I have heard many times from patients that they were feeling depressed until they stopped and listened to the live music, and how it made them feel better and more positive about life," says Sarah Grimes, art coordinator for the facilities. "The music tends to take one away from one's troubles, and a more positive mindset can play a part in healing the body."

Sound Health was created by Mary Perkinson, a doctoral student at the UW School of Music. For her work, she was recently named recipient of a Creative Arts Award by the UW Arts Institute. The presentation will be made May 3.

The idea for Sound Health came from a visit Perkinson made to the Cleveland Clinic in the summer of 2009, where a family member was undergoing major surgery. After several stressful days at the clinic, she encountered a harpist performing live before an entranced crowd of patients, staff and visitors.

"They were just sort of awestruck," Perkinson recalls. "That feeling of peacefulness and calmness that I was a beneficiary of, I wanted to be on the other side of that, the giving side, so that others could experience what I did."

Perkinson began work that fall to bring UW student musicians to hospital settings. So far mostly string music has been performed, in the UW Hospital atria and the lobby of the Children's Hospital.

Perkinson points out that bringing live music to patients and their families isn't a new idea; the Society for the Arts in Health Care has collected a great deal of research demonstrating the clinical value of art therapy.

The unusual setting and audience can make it difficult for student musicians. "At the same time, it's a very moving experience. It can be very powerful," says Perkinson.

"The feeling a musician gets - that feeling of being in the environment and effecting change and just seeing the faces of the passersby, and those who are not well," says Perkinson, "it's a very intimate experience. It can be life-changing."

Perkinson expects to graduate within the next year. Sound Health will continue; it's funded for school-year performances through May 2013. Perkinson hopes to find additional funds for a summer series.

For more information, click here.

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