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The healing power of music: Bishop’s School students bring virtual concerts to seniors and hospitals

A screenshot shows a recent Melodies for Remedies concert online.
(Courtesy)

To share the healing and connective power of music, a group of students at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla formed Melodies for Remedies at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to bring virtual concerts to people in assisted living facilities and hospitals. This past holiday season, the club curated a holiday concert of seasonal songs.

The club, led by sophomore Grace Sun, 15, has members from as far away as New Jersey, with instruments and styles that vary from classical piano to jazz singing. Concert lineups are created based on which of the 50 members are available and can provide variety.

“Our goal is to help seniors in retirement facilities and patients in hospitals who are not able to see their families or friends on a regular basis,” Grace said. “I’ve played piano from a small age, and for me, music brings a remedial effect. If I am stressed or anxious from school or events happening in my life, I can sit down or listen to some music or practice my pieces. It gives a soothing effect and calms me down. It has the same effect on seniors and patients. Not only does it calm, it comforts.”

Bishop's School sophomore Grace Sun, 15, performs during the recent online Melodies for Remedies holiday concert.
(Courtesy)

For some, performing in a virtual concert was a new experience. For others, performing at all was new. Singer Joseph Aguilar, 16, said he had performed at senior living facilities in the past but never via Zoom.

“It was weird at first, but I decided to use the Frank Sinatra song ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ because they love to hear songs from when they were young,” he said. “I could see, even over Zoom, that some were singing along, others sat up in their seats. It was great.”

Bishop’s classmate Paul Madany, 16, said he appreciates that the club provides a place for budding musicians to play.

“I had never performed before this,” he said. “I played piano when I was younger and got back into piano in 2020, and this provided a platform to perform. I think that’s the case for a lot of people, that it provides them a place to perform where they otherwise might not have.”

For Athena Zapantis, who attends Northgate High School in the Bay Area, performing in the concerts has made her feel “normal” in a most abnormal year.

“I think a lot of people are in this club not just for the benefit of seniors and patients, although it’s a great feeling to help, but for us personally,” she said. “I feel I have met a lot of great musicians from this club and it feels so good to get to perform again because it makes me feel normal again. It’s been a year since I last performed live, so this has helped me emotionally and as a musician.”

Paul agreed.

“For me, listening to music provides a pause from everything else that is going on in the world and puts me in this separate mindset,” he said. “The Impressionists made their music to paint a picture in your mind ... you can inhabit whatever world the music brings you into. I love to sit back, close my eyes and listen to that. In the context of a concert, being able to give people that feeling, allow them to slow down, enjoy the music is amazing.”

Joseph said he gets personal satisfaction from stirring emotion and memories through song.

Joseph Aguilar, 16, sings during the Melodies for Remedies holiday concert.
(Courtesy)

“I believe that every song has a memory for someone and that songs and memories are connected,” he said. “There are certain songs we know the lyrics to like the back of our hand, no matter how long it has been since we’ve heard it. And some songs can be timeless. A person today can listen to a song from 50 years ago and have the same feeling as when it was new. With everyone remembering stuff about their life from these songs, we are connected by those emotions when we are so separated.”

Though the club has its roots in the virtual world, it will not disband when life returns to the in-person world.

“A really big thing we would like to do would be ... live/online hybrid concerts,” Grace said. “We can’t eliminate technology from our lives, and I feel like it’s going to be an important part of music in the future. … Although live concerts have special meaning, this club will continue to have Zoom concerts even after COVID is over. We would also like to have live concerts so we can have that one-on-one intersection with our audience. I believe we will have this coexistence.”

She added that Melodies for Remedies would like to continue to provide concerts for senior living facilities, family care centers and hospitals.

To reach the club or view compilations of past concerts, visit melodiesforremedies.org. Past concerts also are available on the club’s YouTube channel. ◆