It was a stingingly cold morning last December 11, with icy streets and freezing gusty winds kicking up, as Orchestra musicians begin filtering in at Salt Lake Regional Hospital’s Lobby for a morning of holiday performances. The first of the artists to arrive, a trombone quartet, arrange their setup off to the side of the spacious open lobby as the group’s organizer, Principal Trombonist Larry Zalkind catches up with Ann Hunter, Salt Lake Regional’s Volunteer Coordinator, to go over last minute logistics for all the morning’s performances.
Within just a moment of the trombonists’ first warm-up notes, a crowd of visitors and employees begins to gather. Suddenly, three employees dressed in hospital scrubs appear and whip their iPhones out to take snapshots. One of them turns around to shoot a smiling ‘Selfie’ with the trombone quartet performing behind him.
The range of the quartet’s musical selections is engaging, and not relegated to simply Christmas music. When the trombonists launch into an upbeat Dave Brubeck arrangement of “We Three Kings” (that combines its melody onto the rhythms of his own “Take Five”) an excited elderly patient, wearing big, fluffy slippers and wheeling her mobile IV drip alongside her, excitedly shuffles in, takes a seat and begins bopping her head in time with the jazzy beat.
As more visitors arrive, their heads swerve towards the music immediately upon entering the building and a number of them quickly turn to take a momentary seat. But even those who don’t have the time for such a detour crack a sudden broad smile as they hear the tunes and continue on their way. Even for these folks, a mere few seconds of the music seems to have set a somewhat brighter tone to their morning.
This is the second year that Zalkind and Volunteer Coordinator, Ann Hunter, have collaborated to bring music to the Hospital during the Holidays. This return to Salt Lake Regional marks the largest event that Larry has yet organized over the five year history of his Community Outreach Program with twenty-two Orchestra musicians (over 1/4th of the Symphony) participating in seven small chamber groups, performing simultaneously in all the Hospital’s main sections. December 11th was also the second consecutive day of Outreach Performance events with (mostly) the same Musicians having spent the previous afternoon performing in the major sections of the Huntsman Cancer Center, which hosted the very first of these events organized by Zalkind back in 2008.
Interestingly, the genesis for this entire program goes back to a conversation in late autumn that year between Zalkind and a Doctor friend who works at Huntsman. The Physician mentioned that they commonly bring musicians in from around the area to perform, but that up to that point, it had mostly been student groups. He went on to point out that the Cancer Center is an intense place to be, irrespective of whether one is a patient, family member or employee, and that the live music is therapeutic for everyone in the building. This resonated deeply with Larry who immediately set about putting together a trombone quartet to play Christmas Carols in the Center’s lobby. Soon after, Larry’s Wife, Roberta, followed up by organizing a String Quartet to perform there. The Musicians’ Outreach Program took off from that point when Zalkind began working with the Huntsman Center’s Volunteer Coordinator to develop the program with an eye towards placing a number of various small performing groups in the different parts of the Hospital.
Since that time, the Musicians’ Outreach Program has added Salt Lake Regional Hospital as well as several Senior Assisted Living Centers to the list of venues in town. Later in January, a new venue will be added with a performance at the Parklane Senior Living Community and currently, Larry is also investigating the possibility of adding performances at the Utah State Prison.
The Outreach Program has also managed to garner some very positive national attention from our end of the industry as the Governing Board of our own International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) has taken notice of, and acknowledged the program’s community efforts. As ICSOM Chairman, Bruce Ridge recently remarked, “The musicians of the Utah Symphony are in many ways the definitive example of how a great symphony orchestra serves all the members of a community, and reaches far beyond the stage in their world-class concert hall. Multiple studies have shown that music can play a crucial role in health issues, and in recovering from illness. Through the vision of trombonist Larry Zalkind, the musicians of the Utah Symphony have established an extraordinary program…. Through playing music for patients at hospitals, as well as through other activities, the musicians support their community in profound ways; and it is equally important for the community to continue supporting the orchestra as well.”
Planning the groups and placing them in optimal locations in various kinds of hospitals is no easy task and to be successful with this, Larry must juggle a number of factors into a complex balancing act. Just a few items to consider include:
– Volume. A trombone quartet, with its big, assertive sound is great for an open, resonant hospital Lobby but totally inappropriate for a venue such as Huntsman’s Chemo Infusion Room.
– Space. In some cases, as in front of the smallish Nurse’s Station at SL Regional’s ICU Unit, only a single violinist stood and played solo literature. At most there was possibly room for one other musician, maximum; yet the sound of a single violinist there seemed perfect for the space.
– Acoustical isolation from one section of the hospital to another. This limits musical bleed-through from one group distorting or distracting from another group performing in a nearby wing. This also involves the necessity of learning the various layouts of the different Hospitals where they perform.
– Fitting the right people to work well together within these small chamber groups can also be tricky as people tend to mesh better – both musically and personality wise – with some individuals more than others. Larry endeavors to make it fun for everyone so they’ll continue to volunteer year over year, so he groups players he knows, and often has observed, enjoying working together.
The importance of this last organizing ‘skill’ cannot be overstated, as it is so integral for Musician retention in a long standing volunteer program. As such, Larry’s years of interfacing almost daily with his colleagues onstage has given him an extra edge in this he wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.
With all these factors, and a host of others taken into consideration, the split-up of groups that morning at SL Regional included a trombone quartet in the lobby, a string trio at the Surgery In-Patient Room, a viola trio at the Surgical Waiting Room, a woodwind trio at the Orthopedic In-Patient room, a violin soloist at the ICU Nurse’s Station, a string quartet at the In-patient Re-hab Unit and a Flute quartet (Flute w/string trio) at the Senior Behavioral Unit’s dining room.
Accompanying Ann and Larry to briefly visit and observe each performing group at work, I was both struck and moved by the exquisite level of musicianship displayed by everyone. This trek around the facility also provided a number of fascinating, sometimes heartrending images:
– A patient in a wheelchair pulls up next to a string quartet member and begins reading music over the Musician’s shoulder.
– At a surgical waiting room, a middle aged couple staring nervously out a window suddenly turn their heads towards the trio, appearing increasingly comforted by the music; while a smiling patient in her gown leans against a wall nearby the Musicians and dreamily, stares off into space
– The Behavioral Unit Dining Room, where its patients packed the available space and displayed, by far, the most active, focused listening to every note and phrase the Flute Quartet served up.
When all the groups finished up shortly before Noon, they returned to their original muster point at one end of the Lobby, and to a person each wore an expression that spoke of having received back so much from the simple act of giving that morning. Anne Hunter was on hand to present each departing Musician with a wrapped Christmas gift of appreciation, while Tammy Clark, the Hospital’s Marketing Director summed up the Staff’s sentiments saying, “You’ve made everyone’s day, Patients, Visitors and Employees, and it all goes to show just how music can heal. Let’s do this again, and soon!”