Music IS Medicine

Robert Bekkers

Guitarist Robert Bekkers

By Beth MacLeod Largent

As much as I love the fall season, it is a bittersweet time, as it brings with it the anniversary of my husband Med’s death. This year marks 11 years since his passing from cancer.  In the seven years before he died, we spent hours and hours in waiting rooms – first at Brigham and Women’s in Boston, then at Dana Farber Cancer Center (DFCC) in Boston, and finally at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth.  I went with Med to every single appointment, and, hands down, the waiting times that felt most comfortable were the ones at DFCC, when musicians were playing in the lobby.  Often there was a pianist who greeted us with soothing music, which felt normal to us, because Med and I were so involved in music and the arts.

The waiting rooms at DFCC were quite large, which meant that you saw people at many different stages of the disease. In the beginning this was disconcerting, but then we became friendly with some of the patients we would see week after week. The times when music was playing in the lobby, everyone smiled as they entered the space. Sometimes, people would just sit, close their eyes, and listen while they waited for their ride.  It was a moment of calm in an otherwise turbulent time.

Fast forward 11 years to the fall of 2018.  Executive Director of the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Weymouth, Jennifer Croes, reaches out to South Shore Conservatory, asking us to provide music for the center’s patients, caretakers and staff member. Concerned with burnout with her dedicated staff members who deal with seriously ill patients every day, Jennifer wished to bring them the healing powers of music.  She felt SSC had the quality of performer that would be perfect for the cancer center.

With the memory of Med’s medical journey still fresh in my mind, and having experienced inner peace through music, I was thrilled that SSC with DFCC connected to create a three-month trial performance series called Music is Medicine.  The first Friday in October, we presented our inaugural concert in the lobby of Dana Farber, and the patients were incredibly grateful.  Cellist Benjamin Swartz greeted them with beautiful Bach cello suites; soothing, calming music, and was rewarded with wide and genuine smiles.  One of the patients stopped and closed her eyes, soaking in the music.  When Ben stopped playing, she cooed, “It’s like hearing the angels…but I’m still here!”

Moving our performances from the concert hall to remote locations, such as medical facilities, means we are able to reach more people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to feel its healing power. This brings me great delight.  Last month, I was blessed to witness pure joy on the faces of people actively fighting a battle most of us can only imagine.  That glimpse was enough to let me know that my own experience was universal. I’m fortunate to work at SSC, where we can provide such comfort.

I’m not the only SSC faculty performer who feels this way.  When I emailed others about this performance opportunity, within a matter of hours I had a waiting list of performers eager to participate. We ALL need to feel that we can help in some small way to ease pain in others.

In November, South Shore Conservatory’s Music is Medicine series features pianist Sarah Troxler with flutist Donald Zook performing a variety of tunes that range from the playful (think variations on Old MacDonald Had a Farm) to the familiar (think Moon River), and on December 7 features holiday classics with Robert Bekkers on classical guitar and Donald Zook on flute.

Learn more about South Shore Conservatory performances at

Beth MacLeod Largent is South Shore Conservatory’s Director of Performance and a member of the voice department.

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