Reflections by Healing Arts Director Rachel Benichak
Guiding the course of Sing for Hope’s Healing Arts programs allows me the rare opportunity to witness very intimately the effect that art can have on the human spirit. At each service visit, I marvel as our community of Volunteer Artists lift spirits, inspire joy, and give hope to patients by sharing their talent and creativity. Few jobs offer the chance to be inspired almost daily — I’m grateful that mine is one of them.
Many facilities that Sing for Hope visits provide long-term and residential care; patients at these sites have no ability to experience the arts unless the arts are brought directly to them, despite living in one of the world’s most vibrant cultural capitals. Residents often struggle deeply with the loss of their independence. But many report that when Sing for Hope brings quality artistry to their facility, they feel less isolated and more connected to the outside world.
Let me share a recent experience at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, where Sing for Hope holds regular Interactive Visits; it exemplifies the impact of our core programming. During this session, we brought in both a pianist and a visual artist. Under the guidance of our visual artist and hospital staff, patients were encouraged to paint whatever came to them as they listened to the piano. The music became a catalyst for the residentsâ€™ own artistic expression.
Last spring, James J. Peters VA Medical Center received a donated Sing for Hope Piano, sparking an interest in hosting Healing Arts programming for their patients. Placed in the Community Room, a space designed to make patients feel safe and at home, the piano marks a gathering point where veterans at the hospital can feel connected – to each other, their healthcare professionals, and those who come to share the joy of art with them.
The music not only inspired patients to express themselves creatively, but also helped them reconnect with joyful memories and reflect on their lives. One veteran, drawn in by the piano music filling the room, began to discuss his musical past with our visual artist, expressing hope that one day he could pick up the trumpet again. As he spoke, his paintbrush hovered timidly over the paper, eager to draw that trumpet but fearful that he wouldn’t be able to properly reproduce it. Encouraged by the music, he let his guard down as the hour went on, eventually putting paintbrush to paper to recreate his beloved instrument.
At the close of the program, patients shared their artwork with the rest of the group.
I have only to watch patients light up as they hear a rendition of their favorite song or smile as they watch a Volunteer Artist perform to know that the arts have an incredible power to inspire and heal. But beyond my observations, numerous studies have shown evidence that music has the ability to soothe anxiety, lessen pain, and treat depression. Moreover, it has unprecedented power to connect us to our memories, making it a crucial treatment for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
According to a recent report from the American Music Therapy Association:
Sing for Hope currently partners with nine medical care facilities around New York City. While driven by our Volunteer Artists, Healing Arts programming also relies on the expertise of each of our faculty contacts to get us through moments where, as artists, we are not qualified to intervene. At the same time, the medical professionals we interact with are willing to be inspired by the simple act of talent sharing that our artists bring.
As a constant observer of the Sing for Hope community, I see how our incredible Volunteer Artists leave an indelible impression on those they serve by sharing their creativity. Ultimately, Healing Arts programming is a collaborative art form, bringing the best out of both our artists and the communities we serve.
Rachel Benichak is Sing for Hope’s Director of Healing Arts. If you are interested in volunteering for a Bedside Performance, Concert Performance, or Interactive Visit, we invite you to take a look at our SCHEDULE OF UPCOMING OPPORTUNITIES. Artists of all types and experience levels are welcome.