Violist inspires others to share healing music with patients
March 24, 2010 8:00 AM
Penny Anderson Brill on violin and Adam Liu on cello play for patients/family in the Eat'n Park Atrium at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on a recent visit.
By Andrew Druckenbrod Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra violist Penny Anderson Brill is accustomed to getting applause for her work on stage. When the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the American Music Therapy Association convenes this week at the Radisson in Green Tree for its annual conference, it will honor the violist for her work as an advocate for music therapy and the PSO for its partnership with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Mrs. Brill hopes that the PSO collaboration with Children's, formalized when the hospital moved to its new building in Lawrenceville in 2009, will inspire more music therapists to work with professional musicians. Her own experience with breast cancer, diagnosed in 1999, made her a believer in music's abilities to be therapeutic, even with chemotherapy and surgery on the agenda.
"I experimented with using music to see if it would make a difference, and found that it reduced anxiety while waiting for test results and before surgeries and treatments, reduced the need for sedatives and pain medications, speeded recovery time, and made me feel more in control of what was happening," she explains in materials she has used to present on the subject for years in Pittsburgh and beyond.
Mrs. Brill also teamed with local music therapists to perform at Pittsburgh hospitals and helped establish a connection between the PSO and Children's Hospital by playing for memorial ceremonies for families who lost children.
Children's Hospital now has two staff music therapists: Deborah Benkovitz and Nicole Steele. That commitment to music and wellness led the PSO to strengthen its relationship with the hospital last year by establishing a pool of its musicians who play regularly chamber music throughout the building.
"There are many spaces that are conducive to performance here," said Mrs. Brill. PSO musicians have performed in places from the cafeteria to intensive care to the transplant unit, essentially enhancing what the therapists do daily with patients.
But the primary space for the performances has become the large Eat'n Park Atrium. Last week, Mrs. Brill (on the violin this time) performed with PSO cellist Adam Liu while a group of patients and their caregivers trickled in to listen and do crafts. One child danced around, others just relaxed and adults got at least a brief respite from their profound worries.
"To see parents smile is just great," said Mr. Liu, who couldn't say enough about his colleague's tireless work. "She has that spirit to connect with parents and children using music as a tool."