Rice students take the healing sounds of music into hospital rooms

Rice MusicMDs play for a patient at Methodist Hospital.

Rice MusicMDs play for a patient at Methodist Hospital.











On a quiet floor of Methodist Hospital, where doctors and nurses spoke in hushed tones, a group of Rice students came prepared to make music — with keyboards, violins and voices.

Hesitantly knocking at doors, one of the students peeked inside a patient’s room and asked: “Would you like to listen to some music?” Within moments, the hospital room transformed into an unexpected concert venue. After listening to sophomore Haley Kurisk sing Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me,” a patient recovering from multiple hip surgeries responded, “My feet made me want to dance.”

The students belong to the Rice MusicMDs club, which was the brainchild of Varun Bansal, a junior studying biochemistry and cell biology.

Following the death of his grandmother, Bansal, along with his sister, co-founded MusicMDs, a national nonprofit. Rice is one of several chapters.

“We used to play her music in her last days. She said she preferred it to therapy dogs,” Bansal said. The grandchildren soon proved that this was not just a grandmother’s affectionate pat on the back. In fall 2009, eager to bring music therapy to others, they started their outreach.

When Bansal came to Rice, he was happy to discover the school’s close proximity to the medical center. He soon began seeking out volunteer musicians. There are now 19 “music MDs” from various departments, two of whom are students at the Shepherd School of Music. Every member has to undergo volunteer training at the hospital. Bansal helps recruit participants, who now perform at Texas Children’s Hospital in addition to Methodist.

On one visit, after sophomore Natasha Mehta finished serenading a patient with “Hallelujah,” the elderly woman said, “If I could, I would give you a standing ovation.” She added tearfully, “Don’t ever feel shy to spread your talents to the world.”

Patients are not the only ones who are moved by these young musicians. Patient care assistants, nurses and sometimes doctors stop to listen, encourage and applaud. Such is the impact of their work that one patient, who was unresponsive and apparently asleep throughout the concert, managed to open her eyes as it ended and whisper “More music?”

To learn more: musicmds.org