ST. LOUIS -- The halls of Saint Louis University Cancer Center will be alive with the sound of music, thanks to a new music therapy program that will rejuvenate and relax patients undergoing treatments and their families.
"Coping with cancer can be extremely stressful," said Mark Varvares, M.D., director of Saint Louis University Cancer Center. "Music is both comforting and calming, and takes people to a peaceful place where they can relax and feel better."
Members of the St. Louis Symphony will be part of the Saint Louis University Cancer Center treatment team, marking its first medical partnership, said Marc Thayer, vice president for education and community partnerships for the symphony.
They will be under the direction of a soon-to-be-hired Saint Louis University music therapist who will shape the program and offer special training to help musicians turn their performance art into powerful therapy.
With the addition of the music therapist, Saint Louis University Cancer Center will become the only cancer center in St. Louis with a fulltime, board-certified music therapist dedicated exclusively for cancer care.
He or she will work closely with current Saint Louis University Cancer Center staff to address the needs of patients and their caregivers, such as pain management or helping them feel less anxious, Varvares said.
New Experience for Symphony Musicians
For those symphony musicians accustomed to donning black and white attire for concerts that can engage more than 2,600 arts patrons, playing music at Saint Louis University Cancer Center will be an altogether different experience.
"It probably will be one person at a time, working with one or two patients at a time. It's not a performance. It's not a concert at all," said Thayer, who also is an adjunct faculty member of the department of fine and performing arts at Saint Louis University.
"Our musicians will be playing live music, which has been shown to have more of a benefit than recorded music. We want any of our musicians who are interested to have the opportunity to be involved."
In addition to engaging symphony musicians to provide therapy, the new music therapist also will involve other musicians including members of the Saint Louis University String Orchestra, a musical group of faculty, staff and students formed in 2009 by Thayer.
Building on the Past
This is not the Saint Louis University Cancer Center's first foray into music therapy. A Maryville University music therapy student did her internship a few years ago at Saint Louis University Cancer Center, playing music in the infusion center several days a week. Her work was so well received the Cancer Center decided to add a full-time accredited music therapist, who will supervise future interns from Maryville University's program at the Cancer Center.
"We're looking to Maryville University to help us build this program because of their knowledge and expertise," Varvares said. "We hope to explore opportunities at Saint Louis University for the education of music therapists."
Saint Louis University Cancer Center's new music therapist also will be part of the research team studying the connection between music and healing.
"There's anecdotal evidence that patients who have music therapy after surgery need less pain medication. Our new program will include a strong research component that lets us look at developing a body of evidence that proves scientifically that it is effective. We are going to turn it into a research program as well," Varvares said.
"At Saint Louis University, we currently have a team of researchers from many different disciplines investigating cancer pain, and the connection between music and pain would be a prime area for study."
Special Grand Rounds Presentation
To celebrate the beginning of the music therapy program, Saint Louis University Cancer Center will host a Grand Rounds presentation from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, May 9 on the ninth floor of Doisy Research Center, 1100 S. Grand Blvd.
Bruce Rabin, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Healthy Lifestyle Program, will speak on the influence of music in promoting healing and health and discuss the successful collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Rabin, a professor of pathology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is a leading authority on the connection between stress and the immune system.
To attend the presentation, please RSVP by Thursday, May 5 to Jennifer Rowland, firstname.lastname@example.org and 314-268-7052.