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College of the Holy Cross students Jill Michelhaugh, left, and Tiffany Holland, are pictured with their violins in the Atrium at St. Vincent Hospital. (Photo by T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA)
Holy Cross Student Musicians Help Soothe Hospital Patients

June 5, 2015 — When College of the Holy Cross student Tiffany Holland's pre-med course load gets to be too much, she heads to the psychiatric unit at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. But she's not there for a bed. With her violin and a few fellow student-musicians in tow, she's there to help soothe patients' souls with music.

"I think music is so special. It can reach out to people in a way words cannot," said Holland, who started playing violin in fifth grade.

Longing to satisfy her dual desires to play and to help people, Holland reached out to Christine Case, volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent. She was thrilled to learn the psychiatric department had been considering seeking students to play music for patients. Soon, Holy Cross Music Therapy was born.

"We play anything. The patients really love it when we play popular music," Holland said, citing the Beatles and Katy Perry.

The group has been recognized as an official organization at the college. Its 10 members take turns participating in twice-weekly, hour-long visits to St. Vincent, where they entertain patients with voice, violin, guitar, ukulele and more. St. Vincent hopes to expand the program to its new Cancer and Wellness Center.

"Sometimes they request country,” Holland said of the patients. “They really like the fiddle music because they can dance around to that. Just last week we were playing a very upbeat song, and this man who had just been sitting there jumped up and started twirling around like a ballerina and grabbing others to join him. It was great to see everyone so alive and happy.”

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can benefit mental health in myriad ways, from decreasing anxiety and agitation to providing the means for safe emotional release.

"I feel that I've seen patients really experience some emotions when we play some of the more classical music," Holland said. "They really feel it. For some of the patients, it may be their first time to really hear stringed instruments, especially that close." Shannon Kennedy, an occupational therapist in the Behavioral Health Department, also said she has seen a reduction in anxiety among patients who listen to the students play.

Holland said the visits to St. Vincent often go beyond music. "We like to sit down and talk to them [the patients]. A lot of times they'll ask us more about our lives. I think they're just genuinely interested, especially since they're dealing with the same group of people day in and day out," she said. [Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette]

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