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Virtual Concerts for Hospital Patients

Susan Warner, Acting Co-Principal Clarinet

When Covid-19 shuttered live music venues, Lyric Opera of Chicago orchestra members felt a profound sense of loss of not only performances, but of identity and connection with colleagues and audiences. Musicians longed for purpose and a way to aid those suffering as the world watched medical and essential workers fearlessly serve. Inspired by experiences of New York-area musicians, flutist Marie Tachouet and clarinetist Susan Warner contacted members of the Chicago medical community to set up virtual concerts for Covid-19 patients. They were promptly introduced to Sharing Notes, a non-profit whose mission is improving quality of life for Chicago hospital patients through intimate, engaging and uplifting live musical performances.

Since 2012, Sharing Notes volunteer musicians have been playing for patients at Northwestern Medicine and other local hospitals. When Covid-19 halted all hospital volunteer programs, Sharing Notes adapted to performing live, virtual bedside concerts. In order to request a virtual bedside visit, the patient or nurse contacts a Sharing Notes liaison who then connects them with the Lyric Opera musician to protect each other’s privacy. Provided via FaceTime, virtual concerts are available to all current hospital patients, including those quarantined in the Covid-19 unit, as visitor and volunteer restrictions have affected everyone. Doctors and nurses can also receive the healing power and connection of music by requesting a virtual concert. Lyric Opera musicians are available 24/7 to perform these visits. Tachouet says, "this was very important to us as we set up the program, as we want to support the patient or staff member when they most urgently need comfort."

Lewis Kirk, Assistant Principal Bassoon, and Melissa Trier Kirk, Viola

Lyric Opera musicians prepare personal repertoire, as well as non-classical music provided by Sharing Notes, so that each patient can receive a tailored visit in a way that provides optimal comfort. Some patients have preferred to listen, some have enjoyed engaging with musicians, and some are medically unable to interact. However, cellist William Cernota says, “the power of music as a deeply human connection was evident even before we performed.” Violist Melissa Kirk and bassoonist Lewis Kirk add, "the patients we played for were visibly moved, some singing along, some crying, all of them deeply appreciative. We had conversations, back and forth, questions asked, stories told. The human connection is what makes the difference."

Mimi Tachouet, Principal Flute

With their own feelings of isolation and a desire to perform, the Lyric Opera musicians have mutually benefited from this partnership with Sharing Notes. “During the bedside concert, I realized I was fulfilling a need within myself,” Warner says. “Three months had passed since sharing any live music with an audience so this moment was feeding my soul — possibly more than the comfort or companionship I was providing my audience of one. Live music is truly a fundamental need.”

William Cernota and his son-in-law Alex Poltawa in their duo CELLO MECHANIXX

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