Maheetha Bharadwaj ’16 founded Stanford Music and Medicine last year in order to bring music to the lives of the elderly and community members suffering from long-term illnesses, and serves as one of the group’s co-directors along with Sohee Park ’16, Christine Chang ’17 and Ates Akgun ’17. The Stanford Daily spoke with her about what the group is doing now and how it’s looking to expand in the future.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Could you talk a bit about the idea behind Stanford Music and Medicine? What’s the mission of the group?
Maheetha Bharadwaj (MB): So basically in high school I started something similar, called Smiles With the Music…that recruited volunteers from all over St. Louis to volunteer at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And the inspiration came from an event that happened to me while I was playing the piano at a cancer center, once. And I just really, really realized the impact that music can have to take on more of a leadership role by, you know, recruiting volunteers and then recruiting sites as well that would benefit from musical performances, and…being the bridge between the two.
That’s what I did in high school, and in high school there were a lot of chapters [of the group] and a bunch of high schools around St. Louis. And then when I came to Stanford, I wanted to start something similar, and…I was on the service committee at the Stanford Pre-Medical Association as a sophomore…and I wanted to sort of do something very similar, sort of like a continuation of Smiles With the Music and call it Stanford Music and Medicine. And basically what we do is we have three or four sites…mainly it’s been the Cancer Center and the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital and Lytton Gardens. So… we try to be very diverse in our reach. We try to have sites that, you know, are for patients with debilitating diseases, as well as sites that are more for, like, targeted towards children, like LPCH or the Opportunities Center.
We also have one site, Lytton Gardens, which is targeted towards the elderly, and those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and neurological diseases. And so what we do is we send out an email to the entire Stanford student body and ask if anyone would be interested in — and there are a lot of people who are very interested in these musical talents to help those in need — and so we are a bridge, sort of a connection between the Stanford undergraduate community and the medical communities outside that could benefit from music. I think our mission is mainly bringing the joy and benefits of music to those who need it or could benefit from it the most.
TSD: And have you seen a positive reaction from the people for whom you perform?
MB: Especially at the Cancer Center, there’s been a lot of positive reaction. I’ve been there when other people have played, and I’ve also played at the Cancer Center. I’ve also played at LPCH and been there when people have sung at the LPCH. Actually last year we had a lot of a cappella groups come over to the LPCH and sing for the children there and the children at the hospital love it, they’re just so amazed.
Music in general is really for everyone, not just for children who are suffering from cancer and other debilitating diseases, but also staff who have been working with these kids, or working with multiple kids, [who] are down in their spirits because of working in such a field, such an emotionally draining field, they also benefit from music as well. I used to sing and play the guitar there and the kids loved it.
I arranged a bunch of a cappella groups to perform there, and I’ve heard from the coordinator that the kids loved it as well. But at the cancer center, too, I’ve also seen sort of the effects; we’re not necessarily playing to a crowd, but people always come in and drop while they’re waiting for their medication or their appointments, and I have seen people close their eyes, listen, smile. It’s always such a great thing to see, when you just see the benefits of music right in front of you, and you can actively see what the music is doing to the people, I think that’s really, really great.
TSD: So how long has it been since you started this group?
MB: So we started as a pilot project last winter quarter and spring quarter. And then in the summer we had to sort of make some ramifications, and not that many people were in town, but we’re really planning to get started this winter quarter and spring quarter, again. We also have some other projects in mind, which are expanding. Last year with the pilot project in the winter, it went really, really successfully.
We had people at the Center every time, LPCH every week, and same thing with spring quarter, we got Lytton Gardens on board and had a bunch of people there. But now, again, transitioning, getting more people, getting the word out about SMAM, it’s been a little difficult in the fall quarter to get people. But I think in the winter quarter and spring quarter again it’ll sort of start the cycle again, winter quarter and spring quarter getting people to go to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
We also actually have another project coming up, which we’re really, really excited about, we’re thinking about. It’s called the Music and Wellness CD Project, and I think it’s a really, really great opportunity. Basically we’re thinking — everything is still in discussion — but we’re thinking of getting music samples from Stanford affiliates and Stanford students, people who would like to donate a song or donate a musical piece or a musical work to sort of a bigger cause, and our idea is to have a capella groups and individual performers donate a song or sing a song for us, or record something for us, and put all of the individual pieces together on sort of a CD, and then hopefully donate the CD to — or distribute the CD to — nursing homes, assisted living facilities or other global organizations that would really benefit from music. And I think that’s our vision for this coming year, on a bigger scale, a bigger project that we’re thinking of, embarking on. We’ll be advertising for that as well, in the coming months.
Contact Sarah Wishingrad at swishing ‘at’ stanford.edu.