Several years ago, Esha and Varun Bansal saw that whenever they played violin for their grandmother, who had cancer, the music delighted her – she had an improved outlook and less pain. The sister and brother researched the connection between music and health and learned about music therapy, which was not widely available in their community.
The teen siblings founded MusicMDs in 2009, giving one-on-one violin performances to patients in nursing homes and hospitals near their Melbourne, Fla., home. The Bansals started recruiting other accomplished musicians from high schools to volunteer for MusicMDs at three local hospitals.
After beginning with an icebreaking serenade, volunteers chat with patients and learn their musical tastes in order to plan their performances. The volunteers give vocal serenades as well as performances on a wide variety of instruments, including violin, viola, piano, flute, harp and guitar.
Thirty-five high school and college musician volunteers have worked through MusicMDs, collectively performing more than 2,000 hours of service and providing more than 50,000 patients with one-on-one music therapy.
Varun, now 19, attends college at Rice University in Houston and has started a MusicMDs Texas chapter. Esha is 17 and attends Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts and has started a chapter in that state. Inspired by the patient therapy he has witnessed over the years as a performer, Varun is now studying pre-med.
“I want to do as much as I can to help patients and improve health care,” says Varun. “So far, I feel very humbled to have been able, without any medical degree, to help patients through my music. Music is great. It helps brighten and cheer up people’s days, improve their moods and make them feel better and forget their pain.”
Esha adds, “I feel honored we founded a group that has helped so many, but it’s important to remember that MusicMDs is successful because of all 35 student musicians who have participated. We’re very grateful to them, to patients and their families, and to health care facilities for their support.”
Florida MusicMDs volunteer Charlotte Goodman says she participates because while patients may be in the hospital to heal their bodies, “Sometimes, their mind, spirit and soul are forgotten. … I look at the person behind the patient.”
Fellow Florida volunteer Tristan Rhodeside says he experienced his most memorable volunteer experience with MusicMDs when he declined money a patient had offered him. “I was told, ‘Well, it’s worth a million dollars to me.’ I felt like a million dollars after that.”
The MusicMDs: Esha Bansal, Varun Bansal, Hope Dougherty, Charlotte Goodman, Henry Goodman, Cindy Hall, Talin Handa, Rachel Ho, Scott Hurwitz, Emily Jusuf, Jade Alvarez Lauto, Alphonse Le, Evelyn Liu, Timothy Ossowski, Sierra Park, Haley Rhodeside, Tristan Rhodeside, Evan Ristow, Isabela Rovira, Zoe Tao, Ashley Wolf.