A children’s hospital may not seem like the most likely place for a jam session or a guitar lesson, but it happens every day at Doernbecher through a Children’s Cancer Association (CCA) program called MyMusicRx. The CCA’s mission is to bring joy into the lives of seriously ill children, teens and their families, and MyMusicRx strives to do so by leveraging the healing power of music. Program specialists visit local medical facilities to interact with patients and their families in 1:1 and group settings, and the program website provides “music medicine” digitally for kids across the nation.
With the help of Doernbecher’s Child Life team, MyMusicRx specialists work with patients in a variety of ways. After introductions, they get a feel for the types of music the patients like best. If the patient has experience singing, playing an instrument or dancing, for example, the specialist might offer music lessons or the two will play music together. If music making is too arduous, specialists and their patient pals watch and talk about music videos together.
Take a moment to meet two MyMusicRx specialists (and talented musicians) who work with kids at Doernbecher, spreading joy, healing and a bit of magic through music.
Matt French has worked for MyMusicRx for two and a half years. Prior to his time with CCA, he worked as a private drums/guitar instructor.
How would you describe the impact music has on a patient?
Music is a great distraction from their treatment – it makes the kids feel normal for the 20 or 30 minutes that we’re in there. Most of the time, when there’s a knock on the door, there are medical personnel on the other side; MyMusicRx helps patients forget about why they’re here. Parents, too, are able to relax and watch their kids have fun and laugh and play music with them. If a patient has had something traumatic happen that affects their plans for their future, we might be able to go in there and teach them how to play an instrument, which could completely change their direction and their future and motivations.
You’ve built relationships with lots of patients and families. Any you’d care to share?
There’s a patient I’ve been working with since I started, and I still see him regularly. He was here before I started working here, and I’ve maintained a relationship with him, playing events with him – he’s taken music and made it a lifetime thing. He’s had a lot of opportunities because of the CCA, including auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” and recording with Chris Funk [of The Decemberists]. Together, we established that music was a big, big thing to him, and it’s truly helping him through his life.
Chris Rubeo joined the MyMusicRx team almost a year ago, having previously worked as a facilitator in an expressive arts therapy program.
What interested you about working for CCA’s MyMusicRx program?
Before this, I was doing work in a group home with kids who had a history of trauma and abuse. I wanted to continue working with kids in a pediatric setting using music in a therapeutic way. What appealed to me about CCA how was how patient driven the programs are and how much we tailor each interaction to the specific patient we’re seeing.
The specialists each bring different types of interactions to the table depending on our backgrounds and specialties – we each sort of work in different arenas based on our skills. Our mission, which is to bring joy into the lives of kids, gives us license to use whatever tools, methods and approaches work well for those kids. I love that MyMusicRx is not prescriptive in that sense. We have a lot of leeway, which allows us to do some pretty cool stuff.
How does music impact patients of varying ages?
That’s an excellent and really hard question to answer because it really depends on the kids. For kids under 5, music is still really interconnected with exploration and play; it serves a more basic function for them. In some situations, music helps with really basic life functions like sleeping. It adds a certain normalcy to their experience in the hospital.
For the older children moving into their teens, music is very wound up with their identity making: finding who they are and expressing who they are for themselves and for others. For this population, discussions of music and playing music have a lot more to do with letting them express themselves, and perhaps to process things like anxieties, fears and pain in a nonverbal way.
What’s something you want others to know about the kids you work with?
When I tell people what I do, they often respond, “It must be so hard working with those kids every day.” What they don’t realize is it’s actually super fun – kids are incredibly resilient and they just want to be kids. What we do every day is help them express the joy and playfulness that, as kids, they want to express and experience. We’re not imposing it on them; we’re just helping them get there.
If you’ve ever worked with MyMusicRx, we’d love to hear all about your experience in the comments!