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For the patients of Spectrum Health’s Neuro Rehabilitation Services, the power of music extends beyond the concert hall. During the 2013-14 Season, Grand Rapids Symphony musicians collaborated with Spectrum Health’s music therapy program to launch the Music for Health Initiative. Its goal: to engage with the healthcare community and introduce live music into healthcare settings. Through performance, Grand Rapids Symphony musicians created positive physical, emotional and spiritual experiences for patients, their families and healthcare providers.

“As musicians, we had the opportunity to be inventive and devise the ideal program for music therapy. This event is the culmination and celebration of the program’s growth this year,” said Diane McElfish Helle, the Music for Health Initiative Project Coordinator and Grand Rapids Symphony violinist.

The project was funded during the 2013-14 Season by a grant from the Perrigo Company Charitable Foundation. The Perrigo Company Charitable Foundation renewed their grant for the 2014-15 Season due to the overwhelming positive response from patients, musicians and Spectrum Health staff. 

During the pilot season, six musicians performed monthly as duos for specially-designed group sessions led by the Neuro Rehabilitation Services music therapist, Erin Wegener. Patients may have experienced stroke, brain injury or dementia, and each session was designed for a particular group. Musicians participated in ways that reached beyond traditional concert format, including improvisation and activities like singing or playing percussion. The sessions were very popular with patients and their family members, and as many as 25 people have attended a session.

“Having Symphony members work with our program provides a side benefit—giving a sense of value to the people we serve. It says ‘you’re worth this! You’re worth having excellent musicians play for you and with you!” said Wegener of the program.

On July 22, 2014, the participants of Music for Health celebrated a successful pilot year with a private concert held at the Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Center’s Kalamazoo Avenue Campus outdoor grounds. All six musicians involved in the program performed alongside Wegener, beginning with musician Paul Austin blowing a call on his alphorn. A wide range of music were performed, including Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” excerpts from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst and Jules Massenet’s “Méditation.” The musicians interspersed comments to share their experiences with the program. 

In the 2015-16 Season, the group of GRS musicians grew from six to ten members, and the program expanded to include Spectrum Health's Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion. Performing in duos, each musician group visited Spectrum Health once a month, providing meditative music for patients receiving infusions in the Cancer Pavilion as well as continuing their work with the patients, families and doctors in Neuro Rehabilitation Services. The Music for Health musicians also introduced a musical collection designed specifically for music therapy. The collection, composed by GRS Assistant Principal Cello Jeremy Crosmer, includes a mixture of short compositions and longer improvisation charts, as well as 75 arrangements of classical pieces. 

The Grand Rapids Symphony gratefully acknowledges the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation and the League of American Orchestras for their generous support of this program.