The Sound of Music: Musicians On Call delivers joy to patients

Originally published as cover feature for Colorado Hotel Magazine, Fall/Holiday Edition – November 2017

‘Tis the season for caroling and gifts, toasting friends and family and reflecting on seasons gone by! For Musicians On Call however, every day is dedicated to spreading cheer through song. Their mission is simply to bring life on the wings of music to patients hospitalized with severe injuries and illness year-round and the impact, resonates deeply.

MOC efforts are experienced by patients, doctors, nurses as well as the volunteers who drive much of the organization’s operation. Ryan Flick, a volunteer musician relayed, “MOC has allowed me the opportunity of serving others while doing something I love to do. I get excited about the connection I can make. Sometimes patients sing along, sometimes they clap, sometimes they ask to sing something back to me! Music is healing, even if it just brings a smile to someone’s day. I get to see smiles a lot when I play at the hospital and the relief that comes with it.”

Another volunteer, Jenny Salimi expounded, “Being part of MOC has been one of the most humbling yet rewarding experiences. It’s an absolute honor to be a able to volunteer with such an extraordinary organization.”

We sat down with President, Pete Griffin to get a better understanding of the work they do in Denver, at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado. There are many ways for the community to get involved both locally and nationwide! Read on to find out how you can give the gift of life to someone who needs it desperately this season and in the year to come.

Colorado Hotel Magazine: For those who are new to the mission of Musicians On Call, can you briefly describe how you network hospitals and patients with music?

Pete Griffin: “We started in 1999 in New York, in one hospital. Our co-founder, Michael Solomon’s girlfriend was diagnosed with sarcoma and ended up passing away. She was 23 years old and her name was Kristen Ann Carr. Her mother worked in the music industry, so they thought, why don’t we do something nice for the hospital. They brought musicians in to play in the lobby and the patients would come down and listen and take a little break from the day. After doing that a couple of times, they realized there were a lot of patients, like Kristen Ann, who weren’t able to leave their rooms. So in many ways, the people that needed it the most, weren’t able to take advantage of the music. Michael and Kristen’s mother then thought, why don’t we bring the musicians around from room to room, to play for patients who can’t leave their room. And that’s the idea that started Musicians On Call.”

Essentially what we do to this day is, we find musicians in cities around the country and we schedule them to go to hospitals on a weekly basis. They go room to room to play for the patients who really need it the most, the ones who are stuck in their beds.”

CHM: How often are music events scheduled in hospitals across the country?

PG: “We aspire to be in the hospitals every week. What we’ll do is, we’ll work with the hospital and they will determine what day and time works best for them. Then they determine what areas of the hospital make the most sense for us to go in, because every hospital has patients organized a different way. We bring musicians each week to visit the hospitals. We rely largely on local, professional musicians who have been screened by us and trained by us. We also work a lot of celebrity musicians. Whenever there is opportunity, we schedule them to do visits as well.”

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CHM: How can the local community get involved and help spread the love for MOC?

PG: “There are two basic ways. One would be to volunteer with us, because we do still need volunteers. You can go to musiciansoncall.org/volunteer to get things going. The cool part about what we do is that we have opportunities for both musicians and non-musicians to volunteer with us. When we go into the hospital we have what we call Volunteer Guides and they’re people who learn the ropes of the hospital and then take the musicians around, room to room. Then, of course, you’ve got the musicians. So we’ve got opportunities for both sets of people.

The other way that people can support us, is just to donate. We’ve got a small staff, there’s only 14 of us that run this program in 26 cities across the country. Our ability to serve more patients largely comes from folks donating, so we can hire more program staff to serve more people.”

CHM: What is your story? How did you first get involved with MOC?

PG: “I came here through a meandering path, if you will. I spent about nine years of my career at MTV. When I was there, I worked in advertising and international marketing before transitioning over to manage all MTV’s social cause work. I did all of the things you would see on air, from covering politics, to different cause related issues. I worked with the MTV talent and musicians and bands and the causes that were important to them and were important to our audience. After doing that for a few years, I realized that I really wanted to dedicate my life to it. A couple of the artists I had worked with had spoken about being involved with MOC. In fact, the artist who helped us kick off our program in Denver was Gavin DeGraw. I’ve known him for a long time and he was one of the artists that told me about his experience with MOC, which is how I found out about it.”

CHM: During your time serving as President for MOC, how has the organization and its mission impacted you personally?

PG: “It’s been amazing! I go to the hospital a lot to bring people and to see the program in action. I’m actually a Volunteer Guide at the Nashville VA Hospital. There’s two things that really stick out to me. One is, it’s easy to understand what we do, but when you get in the room and you see the power that music actually has…Like when you go in the room and you see someone that’s not really moving, not really talking and clearly having a bad day. Then you’ve got a volunteer musician who plays for them and three minutes later, they are sitting up in bed, smiling, laughing and singing along. You know for a few minutes, you’ve brought them joy, you’ve allowed them to disconnect from where they’re at. When you see that, you just want to keep doing more and more of it.

The other thing I see, is the fact that a lot of family members, or patients themselves, come up to me and express how knowing there are people willing to volunteer and take time out of their lives to visit when patients are going through a tough time really means the most. So, there’s that humanity piece of it also that really makes me grateful for all our volunteers that are able to create that human to human connection. That really helps people.”

CHM: What have been some of the greatest challenges for you while serving as President for this great organization?

PG: “One of the things that we’re working on right now, is actually building out technology so hospitals and volunteers can go through an online onboarding process themselves. This will enable us to use technology to get folks onboard and connect them, so that we can truly make MOC for hospitals and communities all across the country. That’s the big initiative we are starting.”

“To go along with that, obviously these things cost money. We’re a small organization. We really spend a lot of time focusing on local communities, sharing the story about what we do; in hopes that people want to support us, so that we can build out more programs and build in some technology that allows us to connect people. It really doesn’t cost much for us to do this because we’re so efficient. Just a little more of a boost in fundraising and we’re going to be able to scale quickly.”

CHM: With the holiday season approaching, in an ideal world, what is on MOC’s wish list this year?

PG: “I would say one of the things we would love people to do would be to sponsor a hospital room. We have a program called, ‘The Backstage Pass’ program. Basically for us to bring music to a room every week for a year costs $500. If someone was able to donate $500 towards a room, or if they wanted to start their own online fundraiser to raise $500, that would allow us to bring music to a room, every week for a year. When you do that, we give you a commemorative Backstage Pass,which essentially connects you to the patients that you’re ultimately sponsoring that year.”

CHM: What is one of the most compelling memories you have to date of how MOC has made a difference in a patient’s life?

PG: “This is a little bit generic, but it has happened so many times, that it’s probably worth sharing. We’re in children’s hospitals all over the country, including The Children’s Hospital of Colorado. This actually happened when I was there with Gavin DeGraw, in Denver. We were going room to room and playing for people and we went into a room of a child that was being treated for cancer. She had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks. The child, as you might expect, wasn’t very happy at the beginning. Gavin played a song and by the end they were clapping, singing and having a good time. Her mom and dad came out into the hallway after we had left and grabbed me. They said after being there for three weeks, that was the first time they had seen their daughter smile. It’s in moments like that, you know you help the patient and the family, and it just changes you. You become even more motivated to try to replicate that emotion for other people and that’s what we’re trying to do. That was just one patient, but we’re trying to do that in Colorado and across the country. It’s really a powerful thing!”

To donate, volunteer or find out more about Musicians On Call visit: https://www.musiciansoncall.org/

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