Paul Rosen, MD
A year ago, I had a chance meeting with OperaDelaware’s General Manager, Brendan Cooke. OperaDelaware is the 11th oldest opera company in the country, with offices just three miles from our front door at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.
Before long, Brendan and I were talking about the healing and transformational power of music.
We asked ourselves, what it would be like if patients and families could listen to world-class opera during their hospital stay? Brendan was having performers come to town for Sunday afternoon performances. They needed to practice the Friday before. Why not practice in our brand new five-story atrium in front of patients, parents and staff instead of an empty room? What about getting a piano, marketing, and distractions for the singers?
We said we would give it a try and see what happens.
I met Michelle during one of the performances while her daughter was enjoying the music. I will let her describe the opera’s impact:
“When we adopted our daughter from Bulgaria two and a half years ago, the only thing we knew with certainty was that our lives would change forever. Although we anticipated some communication challenges at the outset—she was nearly three years old at the time—we did not expect speech and language to be a continuing challenge.
“Some days, for a myriad of reasons known and unknown, it’s hard to get through to our daughter; to help her focus, to help her communicate or to know what she’s thinking. But one thing has been consistent throughout her journey with us; music speaks to her. We took her to a music festival with Mumford & Sons as the headliners, and after every song, she’d look at us and ask, “More music coming?”
“Whether it’s a live performance, or a song from my iTunes playlist, music makes our daughter dance, smile, laugh and spin around at dizzying speeds. Music frees her from her limitations. Music stays with her too; she remembers songs she’s heard only once, and the only time she can string more than a dozen words together is in the context of a song.”
“After a stressful pre-operative physical therapy appointment at the hospital a few weeks ago, we were thrilled to walk through the atrium just as that day’s OperaDelaware performer began her first song. My daughter, whom I typically have to chase through the halls or carry so as not to lose her, froze.
“As the singer’s powerful voice rose dramatically and soared through the atrium, my daughter’s face rose in response, and she stood still, spellbound. She looked over at me, with an expression that said, ‘Can you believe what we’re hearing?’
“We moved closer, grabbing a front row seat, and for that brief time in the space of a hard day, no words were necessary (other than her typical “More music coming?” after each beautiful song). No questions to answer, no worrying thoughts about the surgery to come…nothing but us and the music.”
Photo: Michelle’s 5 -year-old daughter is mesmerized by soprano Victoria Cannizzo in the Fusco Atrium of Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.
Footnote: I went to visit Michelle the following week in the surgery family area. She told me her daughter was singing the opera on the way to surgery. We are now in conversation with our local symphony. In addition, music therapists, as part of the Nemours Child Life programs, work with children and families in patient rooms.
And for additional reading about live music inside the hospital, see: Arts: Focus on what we have, not what’s missing (from Delaware Online)