Music for the Mind - JFM Grant Enhances Care for Psychealth Centre Patients

by Stu Slayen | Mar 02, 2018
An elderly woman visits her ailing husband in the Palliative Care Unit at St. Boniface Hospital. They sit together in a common room, joined by Vanessa, a guitarist from Artists in Healthcare Manitoba. The husband has weeks to live. He is frail, and resigned to his fate.

“We want to dance,” the elderly man says to Vanessa. “Please play something for us.”

Vanessa plays the Tennessee Waltz. The wife is concerned about her husband’s energy, but she gives in and carefully helps him up. They dance. Slowly. Lovingly. The unit comes to a halt as patients, families, and staff watch this
dance for the ages.

For those few minutes, illness is suspended, death is forgotten, life is embraced.

“I hear stories like this all the time. This is the power of music,” says Shirley Grierson, Executive Director of Artists in Healthcare Manitoba. “The arts can bring joy, connection, and even healing in trying circumstances. That
is why we do what we do.”

Thanks to a June 2017 grant from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, Artists in Healthcare Manitoba will be able to expand its Music for the Mind program for patients at the PsycHealth Centre at Health Sciences Centre. These patients are dealing with mood disorders, addictions, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other conditions.

“I really think that music helps people with their healing,” says Kyle Cobb, a regular performer at the PsycHealth Centre. “When I’m singing and playing with patients, it’s just obvious. The music takes people out of their own situations to this place where they are sharing something special together.”

Sometimes, says Cobb, patients will bring their own instruments and play along, and sometimes families will time their visits for Cobb’s performances. Although Cobb is specializing in jazz guitar at the University of Manitoba, he finds that his audiences in PsycHealth really prefer rock, country, and folk music. “I play Beatles, Johnny Cash, and The Band,” says Cobb. “And they really dig the Neil Young stuff.”

For Cobb and 20 other year-round performers, Artists in Healthcare Manitoba provides meaningful paid work that allows them to stay in Manitoba to pursue their passion and hone their craft.

“We’re making a difference for artists and we’re making a difference for patients,” says Grierson. “Music can have a profound effect on our state of mind. It can return you to who you really are – not as a patient, but as a person. Thanks to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, we will have an impact on more people.”