GLENWOOD SPRINGS — From harpists and a cappella groups to folk singers and pianists, the Holistic Harmony music program at Valley View Hospital is treating patients to a variety of musical performances.
Holistic Harmony, launched in December 2003 by Lesa Russo, is now celebrating its 10th year of providing musical performances in Valley View Hospital and local hospices.
“Our musicians provide entertainment and a diversion to being in the hospital,” Russo explained. “It takes the patients’ minds off the pain and gives them something else to think about.”
Russo, a radiation oncology nurse at the Calaway-Young Cancer Center, is also a longtime musician and performed professionally before becoming a nurse. In 2003, she started the program in an effort to “demystify the hospital experience.”
“We have the Planetree philosophy here at the hospital, which is about patient-centered care,” Russo said. “I take [the musicians] around, room to room, to play for the patients individually. That’s what makes our group stand alone, since most groups just play music in the lobby.”
Roughly 40 local musicians, including Russo, participate in the program, volunteering their time to perform for patients primarily in the acute and critical care units.
Russo said they also perform in the nursery occasionally, singing lullabies to the newborns. Performances have recently expanded to the Calaway-Young Cancer Center, and Russo hopes to attain a baby grand piano for the lobby in the near future.
“The musicians get just as much out of it as the patients, because they see the effect they have,” Russo said. “Everybody who has tried it has stuck with it, and most of the musicians say it’s the best thing they do with their music.”
The gift of voice
In addition to Holistic Harmony, Russo also spearheaded the Harmony Threshold Choir, a chorus of roughly 10 vocalists. The threshold choir performs both at Valley View Hospital and in the homes of hospice patients.
“The Holistic Harmony music program is intended for entertainment and diversion purposes, while the chorus is intended to provide the gift of the human voice for patients at the end of life,” Russo explained.
When the Harmony Threshold Choir was formed, it was the first one in Colorado, according to Russo. Today, she knows of at least six more in the state.
One of the newest additions to the Holistic Harmony program is 16-year-old Harrison Forman, who is a patient in the Youth Recovery Center at Valley View Hospital. According to Russo, he is the first patient to participate in the program as a musician.
Forman performed for the first time last week, borrowing Russo’s guitar and singing everything from Sublime and the Eagles to Jack Johnson and Old Crow Medicine Show, based on patient requests.
“It felt good to play for people that are going through a lot,” Forman said. “It makes me not feel alone, and it feels good to make them smile. It kind of gives you confidence.”
In addition to guitar, Forman plays a variety of instruments — bass, fiddle, violin, piano, drums, mandolin and ukulele — and even writes some of his own songs. Down the road, he hopes to attend the Burklee College of Music in Boston.
“I like making their day better after a rough time, because I know what they’re going through,” Forman said.
Another volunteer musician is Thomas Cochran, who has been playing contemporary folk and Celtic music with his wife, Karen, as part of the Holistic Harmony program for a few years.
“For the patients, it’s a real relief,” said Cochran, a retired theater professor who works part-time on the hospital valet staff. “The patients seem to love having someone come in to give them something different. It really makes them smile, and it’s always an incredible experience.”