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A magazine from California State University, Chico -- On-line Edition  
Summer 2007
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Flautist MaryAlice Kolko and harpist Lauren Sharkey perform for patients at Enloe Regional Cancer Center. Photo by Mark Thau.
John Severson at The Surf Gallery in Laguna Beach in September, during the launch of his new surf guitar line.

In Harmony with Healing

CSU, Chico music students brighten spirits at Enloe Medical Center with weekly performances

On a Tuesday afternoon last fall in the Enloe Regional Cancer Center, a light sprinkling of musical notes fluttered through the hall. Entranced by the lyrical melody, patients and hospital visitors followed the sound to the atrium to find not recordings from a speaker but rather a harp and flute being played by two music students. Patients stopped, enchanted by the music, and two visitors playfully skipped and danced, making others laugh. “It’s beautiful,” a patient said. “It’s a real treat.”

What they were experiencing was a new partnership between the CSU, Chico Department of Music and Enloe Medical Center. Harpist Lauren Sharkey and flautist MaryAlice Kolko are both graduate students at Chico State enrolled in the new university course Music for Healing and Wellness, which debuted fall 2008. The course brings a diverse group of talented musicians, both undergraduate and graduate students, to perform weekly in the hospital’s main lobby, the Regional Cancer Center’s atrium, and the Enloe Rehabilitation Center’s dining room. Patients, visitors, and hospital staff are treated to solos and duets on keyboard, guitar and vocals, and harp and flute of a variety of standard classical pieces and select compositions.

“It’s a perfect marriage,” says Keith Seppanen, Music Department chair and professor of the class. “I have always believed in music and what it can do for a person mentally and physically.”

For Sharkey, a music education graduate student, performing at the Cancer Center is particularly meaningful. She played harp for her grandmother, who had cancer, and the memory of her grandmother’s enjoyment of the music makes her smile. She hopes to bring that joy of music to other cancer patients. “It feels good knowing we are making a difference,” says Sharkey. “This class gives students a chance to get off campus and help the community.”

The goal of Music for Healing and Wellness is to not only give students a stage on which to perform, but also to give them the experience of performing for another type of audience. “This class allows the students to see how their music can touch people and what it can do for someone’s spirit,” says Seppanen. “Students can use their music for a healing purpose, and it changes their mindset.”

“We perform because it’s an emotional outlet for ourselves, but when we see others moved by the music, it reminds us of why we do it in the first place,” says Kolko, a music performance graduate student. She says she cried during her hospital performance, she was so touched by how her performance affected patients and staff. “Just being here and being able to see how the music touches others is the best part. I’ve performed at many different places, but in a hospital it’s more personal than entertaining at a function.”

Holistic healing

The musical collaborations are a part of the new Planetree initiative at Enloe Medical Center called Arts and Entertainment as Nutrition for the Soul. The international nonprofit Planetree grew out of founder Angelica Thierot’s disheartening hospital experiences while battling a viral infection in the 1970s, and its philosophies are inspired by the healing temples of ancient Greece. The organization helps hospitals focus on patient-centered care and healing the body, mind, and spirit. As in ancient Greece, Planetree uses music to revitalize patients’ inner resources, restore their will to survive, and rekindle the joy of living.

Music can make a difference in patients’ health and recovery, says Lynda Sezon, certified therapeutic recreation specialist and rehabilitation therapy supervisor at Enloe Rehabilitation Center. “Some of the benefits of music are that it can be used to enhance overall mood, promote relaxation, reduce anxiety and stress, and supplement other pain-control methods,” notes Sezon.

The music department received a $3,000 award from the hospital to bring music to its patients. “It was really exciting when I heard of the collaboration with Enloe, and so I decided to run with it,” says Seppanen. A mass announcement was sent to all music students, and as a result, 11 students enrolled the very first semester.

“It’s very educationally rich for the music students because they learn how to modulate how they play the music according to the needs of the patients,” says Ann Prater, advancement director for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, who helped develop the collaboration between the hospital and the University.

The first semester was more of an experiment, and now that the second semester is almost over, many of the logistics that were difficult in the beginning are no longer problems. A student in music industry was hired to manage the logistics. Students have been asking about permanently creating a minor in music therapy. Seppanen feels this is a realistic request. “It will take time, but I hope to expand the program,” says Seppanen.

Artists play their part

Also, a partnership with the University’s Chico Performances brings internationally and critically acclaimed artists to Enloe and the community. In late April, as part of an annual weeklong artist residency, Chico Performances and Enloe Medical Center brought multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven to the community and students of Chico. Prior to his evening performance, Craven visited with several local groups, both in and out of the classroom. Craven hosted performances for the patients and staff at Enloe Medical Center and at the Enloe Rehabilitation Center, as well as afternoon children’s performances at both Citrus and Rosedale elementary schools. This week-long set of music activities in the Chico area reflects the Planetree philosophy of highlighting the arts and community as key components of maintaining a long-term healthy lifestyle.

“I’m both excited and proud to have a performer like Joe Craven bring his musical passion, talent, and knowledge to Chico,” says Trudy Duisenberg, community outreach coordinator for Enloe Hospital. “It’s partnerships like we have with Chico Performances that help the community realize how related health and music are.”

Part of a holistic approach to health care, Music for Healing and Wellness provides respite for patients while making students and community members an important part of the recovery process.

About the author

Jeannine Bourque (BA, Journalism, ’08) is a freelance writer in Salinas, California.