Stanford Medicine Stuck@Home Concerts: Emotional PPE for Unprecedented Times
School of Medicine communications manager Margarita Gallardo performed “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars with her daughters, Layla and Gabi.
By Jacqueline Genovese
As a nonclinician working in the Stanford School of Medicine, I felt helpless as I watched my boss, Dr. Audrey Shafer, a professor of anesthesiology and perioperative and pain medicine, and other colleagues and friends on the frontlines of COVID-19. Then I got a call from Dr. Bryant Lin, a clinical associate professor of primary care medicine and population health, who said, “Do you think we could create a virtual concert series?” I had worked previously with Lin on several arts programs, including a physician evening at the Cantor Arts Center, and happily accepted the opportunity to collaborate with him again. We knew from past programming how healing and unifying music could be, and we also knew from our extensive Stanford Medicine Music Network that many medical students, physicians, residents, and staff are also talented musicians.
Additionally, our first-ever Stanford Medicine Symphony Concert had to be canceled due to COVID-19. That concert would have included more than 40 Stanford physician musicians playing together under the direction of conductor Dr. Hanjay Wang, also a Stanford physician.
At first, we saw the Stanford Medicine Stuck @ Home Concerts as a not-perfect replacement for this event. Over the ensuing two months, however, the concert series turned into so much more.
One of the highlights of the series was the number of children of Stanford doctors and staff who performed with their parents or solo. Dr. Diana Farid played guitar and sang “Follow” by Brandi Carlile with her husband, Dr. John Leppert, on drums; their daughter on piano; and their son on guitar. Kevin Curran, the director of new construction for Stanford Hospital, played guitar and sang “Half the World Away” by Noel Gallagher with his son, also on guitar. We all had a chance to say hello to first-year medical student Vivian Lou’s mom, who told us how happy she was to have her daughter sheltering in place with her in Canada. Amelia Ligons, senior talent acquisition consultant for Stanford Health Care, sang a heartfelt “Happy Birthday” to her mother, and Karen Thomson Hall, the director of the Standardized Patient Program in the Center for Immersive and Simulation-Based Learning, sang “Follow Your Heart” by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, with her husband, Colin Thomson.
Medical student Sheun “Shay” Aluko wrote and composed the song “You’re Stuck at Home but Not Alone” for the series.
Medical student Sheun Aluko and undergraduate Jacob Bedia took Stuck @ Home as an opportunity to compose original music dedicated to health care workers. Aluko wrote and composed the song “You’re Stuck at Home but Not Alone,” and Bedia composed a piano piece called “Reflection.”
In addition, Lin’s role as co-director of the Center for Asian Health Research and Education allowed us to collaborate with Stanford student leaders of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association to hold a themed concert to launch Asian Pacific American Mental Health Awareness Month. That concert featured songs sung in Chinese by Drs. Kim Chiang and Han Zhu as well as student Sierra Ha and Dr. Lynn Ngai Gerber playing the traditional Chinese erhu. Undergraduate student Gaby Haeun Li played an arrangement on the cello that combined “Arirang” and “Mo Li Hua” (Korean and Chinese folk songs, respectively), which represented her Korean-Chinese heritage. Inspired by her experience with the Stuck @ Home Concert series, Li included concerts in her Virtual Companions program designed to connect Stanford volunteers with residents of nursing homes who are both most at risk and isolated during the pandemic.
“The concerts provided a place of respite, reconnection, and resilience for so many during this time. We began the series with a belief in the power of music to connect, to heal, and to bypass the brain and go right to the heart during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Art, Poetry, and Magic
Another canceled event we held virtually was the installment celebration for Stanford School of Medicine alumni who had worked with Jennifer Cauble, the Stanford Medical Center alumni relations director, and artist Lauren Toomer to create a sculpture using bricks from the original anatomy lab. During a concert, Toomer explained the project and shared a video of the sculpture taken a few weeks before the pandemic. For another “art interlude,” Dr. Ioana Baiu, a fourth-year surgery resident, shared her artistic process in creating Noticed, a 22” by 28” oil painting on canvas that she dedicated to her patients. And for something really different, Dr. Jonathan Chen, an assistant professor in the Center for Biomedical Informatics Research and the Division of Hospital Medicine, performed magic with cards and $100 bills to the amazement of his fellow performers and the audience.
Dr. Diana Farid and her husband, Dr. John Leppert, performed “Follow” by Brandi Carlile with their children, Ella and Elijah.
The 12-concert Stanford Medicine Stuck @ Home series featured more than 82 Stanford physicians, medical students, staff, residents, family members, undergraduates, and alumni, who played a range of music—from classical to classic rock, to folk and gospel—and shared artwork and poetry every Thursday evening. The response to the concerts, from the performers and the more than 3,000 audience members who tuned in, was one of overwhelming gratitude and appreciation for the sharing of artistic gifts and for the connection made possible during such an unconnected time. Live comments from audience members included this from a physician: “I am exhausted after a nonstop week of COVID-19-related work, and this concert has been a much-needed respite. Thank you.”
A Stanford employee said the concert was the highlight of the week for her nine-year-old daughter, and a music teacher from a local middle school had his whole class tune in as a lesson on what practice and persistence can sound like.
We heard from Stanford employees who said the concert was something positive to look forward to each week and a way to feel connected to colleagues and to be introduced to new colleagues and their families. We were able to secure a COVID-19 Creative Community Response Grant from the Office of the Vice President for the Arts to produce highlight videos and place full videos on a newly created YouTube channel. The momentum for the series continued to build over the weeks, as more employees and others stepped up to perform and express their appreciation. During a virtual Department of Medicine Grand Rounds broadcast to thousands, moderator Dr. Errol Ozdalga said the highlight of his week was tuning in to the concert and seeing his colleague Dr. Baldeep Singh. Ozdalga exclaimed, “I had no idea Baldeep could play the guitar!”
We began the series with a belief in the power of music to connect, to heal, and to bypass the brain and go right to the heart during the COVID-19 pandemic. What we realized over the weeks was that the series also provided a way to recognize other traumatic events, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and sadly many others that led to the Black Lives Matter nationwide protests, as well as the continued loss of life due to COVID-19. It became clear that the concerts were a form of emotional PPE (personal protective equipment) for the performers and the audience, providing a much-needed peaceful and healing space in anguishing and unprecedented times.
During the concert to launch Asian Pacific American Mental Health Awareness Month, Lin spoke about the power of the concerts. “I am the son of immigrants from Taiwan. It is amazing that I can sit here on Zoom with all of you in the middle of Silicon Valley, sharing music from so many different cultures with you. Even though this has been a time of strife and difficulty and friction in society, today to me is what America is all about.”
Watch the Stuck @ Home concert series here.
Jacqueline Genovese is executive director of the Stanford Medicine and the Muse Program in the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics at the Stanford School of Medicine.