Although the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many people feeling lonely and isolated, one student society at Dalhousie University has been working to lift spirits through music.
Dal student Andrew Son founded the Music and Healing Society at Dalhousie in September 2018. He says the society aims to fill places with music that might need it the most. In the past, the society has performed at the IWK Health Centre, the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre (QEII) and various nursing homes around the city with the hope that patients and staff get joy or comfort out of a live concert and human interaction.
“The priority is to bring music to those who don’t have access to live music performances,” says Son, a fourth-year student pursuing an honours bachelor degree in neuroscience with a minor in piano.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the society members performed in person, but have since been holding virtual concerts for local hospitals and nursing homes.
How the society was created
Son came up with the idea for the Music and Healing Society at Dalhousie in 2017 when his grandfather passed away during his first year at university. After his grandfather passed, Son started volunteering as a meal assistant in the Veterans Memorial Building at the QEII. He later noticed there was a piano at the hospital, so he started playing for patients after he was done volunteering for the day.
“I enjoyed playing for them and having conversations with them. I would ask them if they liked Johnny Cash better or Elvis. I liked getting to know them better,” Son says.
For several months, Son performed for patients with the help of a music therapist at the hospital. But after the music therapist left, Son couldn’t play piano there anymore because there was no one left to organize the sessions.
So, around the beginning of his second year in school, Son started the society.
“I couldn’t do it anymore at the Veterans Memorial Hospital so I thought, I’ll just make it myself,” Son says.
Caleb Ehler, a third-year piano major at Dalhousie, has been a member of the society since it started. Currently, he is the co-vice president of information technology (IT).
“As a musician you take as many performance opportunities as you can, but I also loved the idea of the whole thing, like playing for people who need the music the most. That resonated with me,” Ehler says.
Ehler talks about how special it is to touch and communicate with people through music. The human element of sharing music with people is an important part for him as a musician.
“It is healing for me as a performer, that human connection. Something so simple and pure as music can touch people in special ways. That’s what gives it meaning for me,” Ehler says.
Healing for all
Son believes music is healing. He talks about how there is scientific literature supporting music therapy, but also how on a personal level music has helped him throughout his life.
“Music has always been an escape too. During those dark moments, music has always been there for me. My piano has always been there for me. I feel like I express myself best when I play music, and in that sense it is therapeutic. I also think listening to music is therapeutic as well, and by creating this society I was hoping that people listening to our music will find it therapeutic,” Son says.
During the past two years, the society has grown from six people to about 25. Ehler says although it is composed primarily of music students, it is open to anyone from arts to science students to casual musicians at Dalhousie. They are currently having meetings every two weeks via Microsoft Teams.
Son says he hopes the society is healing for all parties involved: listeners and performers.
“I feel like everyone can get a little something from musical concerts,” Ehler says.
In the future, the society hopes to organize performances at Laing House (a youth drop-in centre) and local centres for mental health.