Music as Medicine

The healing powers of UW's Sound Health program

At UW Hospital, where life and death are part of the daily hustle and bustle, a moment to be still is one to treasure.

When UW music students with the Sound Health program fill the hospital atrium once a week with their melodies, the effect for some is transformative. One woman who regularly takes anti-anxiety medication before seeing her doctor told Sound Health founder Mary Perkinson she didn’t need it after hearing a student perform.

“It’s hard to articulate the feeling you get when you see someone coming through on a gurney and they ask the nurse to stop and listen for ten, twenty, thirty seconds, or even a minute,” Perkinson says. “People stop in their tracks.”

Every week a different group of students rides the number 80 bus to the hospital, where in addition to a free lunch they find their own rewards from the experience.  

“Last time I played, a woman said her husband had recently passed away, and something I played really calmed her,” says UW–Madison senior Ami Yamamoto, who occasionally plays piano with the program. “Music is powerful.”

Perkinson started Sound Health in 2010 after seeing a harpist stop traffic at a Cleveland hospital. Though she still advises the program, it is now run primarily by students in the UW School of Music with grant money from UW Hospital and UW–Madison. 

Rory Linnane is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine. 

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