'Virtual coffeehouse' Zooms live music to patients and staff at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital

New partnership with Alicia Keys Foundation’s She Is the Music expands range of artists, genres

Before the pandemic, the monthly Songs Under the Stars concerts at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital were a highlight on social worker Gina Kornfeind’s calendar.

“I lived for it,” says Kornfeind, MSW, MS, support and bereavement coordinator for the hospital’s Pediatric Pain and Palliative Care Program. “You’re seeing kids who are actually able to participate in one way or another, so it’s healing in that way. And then we get to be with them. I’d look forward to it for the whole week.”

Like so many other pre-COVID in-person events, these regular music performances have been reimagined on Zoom. The “virtual coffeehouse” concert series that brings live music into patient rooms and nurses’ stations throughout the hospital recently got a star-powered boost from the Alicia Keys Foundation’s She Is the Music, a nonprofit initiative dedicated to increasing the number of women in the music industry.

Joy Nesbitt was one of more than a dozen performers in the inaugural "virtual coffeehouse" concert featuring She Is the Music artists.

“Our goal with the virtual coffeehouse is to encourage an opportunity for community involvement and social support,” says Jenna Bollard, MA, Expressive Arts Therapies Manager at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and board-certified music therapist. “Our aim is to create something that is super accessible, flexible, inclusive and supportive for everyone. No matter where you are in your life journey, you can relate to music in some way and be supported by it.”

With She Is the Music as a partner, the hospital’s virtual-performance series now includes entertainers from across the country. The inaugural February showcase featured more than a dozen performers spanning musical genres, from country to rock to electronica.

“This was our first event and partnership that we have really used as a way to give back and to provide entertainment and light to a group that we haven’t before,” says Michelle Arkuski, executive director of She Is the Music. “The artists were just so thankful and appreciative and moved and inspired. I think everyone was thrilled to be a part of it.”

Medical center staff, patients and their parents tuned into the 90-minute show through iPads in hospital rooms and on desktop computers in staff workstations. Kornfeind described the energy of the show as “very peace, love and understanding.”

“It’s just so much fun,” she says. “It literally takes over our bodies. My coworkers could be writing chart notes in the same room, but they’re all loving it and listening to it.”

Arkuski says she understood the profundity of the experience when she noticed a mother and hospitalized infant enjoying the concert on the Zoom screen.

PET Wife performed in the "virtual coffeehouse" concert in February.

“She was just holding her baby and listening to the performances in the hospital room. That was just such a moment of realization where you realize, wow, this is truly someone’s light and just a positive note on their entire day,” Arkuski says.

Another virtual coffeehouse event featuring She Is the Music artists is planned for International Women’s Day on March 8. Performers include pop duo Aly & AJ, former Prince collaborator Támar Davis and bilingual singer-songwriter Yaniza.

The digital concerts supplement the hospital’s ongoing in-person music-therapy offerings, which haven’t been compromised by the pandemic. Bollard and her staff continue to provide support for patients and families during medical procedures to increase relaxation and homeostasis in the body; during physical and occupational therapy to motivate and inspire; to encourage and support emotional expression; and for exploration and play.

“Music therapy is about using evidenced-based interventions that tend to the mind, body, spirit and emotions all in one,” Bollard says. “As board-certified music therapists, we use music as our superpower and tool within the therapeutic relationship.”

The virtual coffeehouse concerts are another way to bring music into the hospital setting — and to incorporate doctors, nurses and other staff members into the experience. Bollard says the “therapeutic trickle effect” extends beyond the event itself.

“Hospital staff has this special opportunity to connect with patients and families during the virtual coffeehouse and bond over the performances they witness. It can bring a brightness to bedside visits to connect over this shared experience,” she says. “For everyone to be able to see each other in a new light is really, really healing for all involved.”

Learn more about music therapy at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital: https://uclahealth.org/mattel/music-therapy

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