Last night, the National Virtual Medical Orchestra, composed of healthcare professionals, and accompanied by the famed violinist Joshua Bell and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, took part in an online performance to honor all healthcare workers during the course of the pandemic.

The online concert, “Music as Medicine”, which featured classical pieces by Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky, provided a platform for healthcare workers to showcase their musical talents. For the performance, each artist was pre-recorded, then later mixed together with both audio engineers and video producers.

The National Virtual Medical Orchestra, founded in late Spring by John Masko, an alumni of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), includes doctors, nurses, residents and other medical professionals who join together virtually to create classical music.

But this is not Masko’s first experience in the realm of virtual medical orchestras. He actually had the opportunity to conduct a medical orchestra while in college, when he regularly conducted the Yale Medical Symphony. “The first-ever orchestra I got to conduct regularly was the Yale Medical Symphony when I was in college,” said Masko in a SFCM publication this summer. “It’s always been a community that I’ve been close to.”

As the pandemic rages on, healthcare professionals have made incredible sacrifices to provide care in communities throughout the U.S. When they are not working in hospitals or research facilities, a number of them are talented musicians who look forward to a time in the future when all of us can attend live concerts.

One of the performers in Music as Medicine last night was Dr. Len Horovitz, a pianist, and Manhattan pulmonary specialist affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital. He feels that while the virtual performance embraces the spirit of “giving back” to the healthcare community, it also highlights how music can have a positive impact on mental health.

“Carnegie Hall wanted to honor the healthcare community given the pandemic, but also wanted to show that many in healthcare have musical talent,” said Horovitz. “Music certainly helps mental health- listening to it and playing it. I hope we can all sit in a truly live concert soon once we are all vaccinated. I’m very optimistic about the vaccines and I hope 75% of people will take it.” 

“Because I’m a pianist, I have many musical performers in my medical solo practice. They know I understand what is involved in getting onto the stage—I’ve learned a lot about people and about myself through this!”, he added.

Music as Medicine also included violinist Joshua Bell performing the Adagio from Tchaikovsky’s, “The Nutcracker” last night.

The positive impact of music on mental health is supported by research. Specifically, music therapy is an approach that can be used to improve emotional well-being, allow patients to cope with stress, and boost psychological outlook in those with depression. While music serves as a medium for processing emotions, trauma, and grief, it can also function as a calming agent in the setting of anxiety.

Esther Choo, M.D, MPH, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, and a speaker for Music in Medicine, explained the positive influence of Music as Medicine in simple terms. “It is such a beautiful crossover between music and healthcare. Healthcare workers are physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted right now—music uplifts, it provides healing and connection.”

Megan Ranney, MD MPH, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Brown University, and Co-Founder of #GetUsPPE, added that “music is a key part of my family’s life. I’ve played the piano since 1st grade, and my kids have both landed on favorite instruments (piano and clarinet, respectively).”

“It’s a source of joy, mindfulness, and connection for us. We also love listening to music. Our traditions and celebrations are marked by certain soundtracks.” she added.