Michael Metzner loved hearing his grandmother play the piano when he was growing up, even when she was giving lessons to children. No matter how he felt, the music always made him feel better.
Now, the first-year medical student at the University of Central Florida is out to show that music not only makes you feel better, it can also heal. That’s why he’s launching a study to track the physiological changes music produces among sick children. There was just one problem before he could get started – the hospital that agreed to help him with the study had no musical instruments and no budget to purchase them. Metzner’s solution – Craigslist and a little holiday good will.
“I emailed about 200 people who had ads on Craigslist selling pianos,” Metzner said. “I told them what I was doing and was looking for someone to donate a piano.”
A black, baby grand piano, which was owned by the grandmother of an orthopedic surgeon in South Florida, arrived at Nemours Children’s Hospital in early December thanks to one of those emails.
“The doctor was really nice and donated it,” he said, “but I had to get it up here, so I started calling moving companies.”
He found one local moving company, Knight Movers, that donated half the cost to ship the piano, and a Nemours doctor who heard about Metzner’s efforts chipped in the rest of the money. Once the piano arrived, others in the community volunteered to tune it and get it ready for its debut with patients.
Metzner hopes to begin playing it for patients next year.
“I am really a strong believer that music – all arts – do help the healing process, and have a place in medicine,” said Metzner who has a degree in biological chemistry and another in visual arts. He’s an accomplished photographer and a musical composer who plays piano, saxophone and clarinet. “There are some studies out there about that, but there isn’t any hard data and that’s what I’ll be looking for in my study so that people won’t just think it’s something nice, but know it is something that can be used as an intervention.”
Metzner is working with classmate Tyler Bunnell and Dr. Michael Campbell, director of patient and family-centered care at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Lake Nona, to execute his study, which will analyze the impact of music on chronically ill children.
Metzner will look specifically at changes in the stress hormone cortisol. His study will conclude in two years and he hopes that there will be enough conclusive data to change people’s perception. Some people don’t believe there is a connection at all.
“Music, actually all the arts, have always been a part of my life and I know they can make a difference,” said the 22-year-old New York native who moved to Wellington near West Palm Beach when he was 12. “I think we should be doing a better job of uniting the arts and the sciences. My hope is to change practice in medicine, especially in pediatrics, so that the arts can be used as a beneficial intervention.”
He’s not alone.
Shands Hospital in Gainesville has an Arts in Medicine program that invites performers who play or put on short works for its patients. And the national non-profit organization Musicians on Call has been sending musicians or recorded music to hospital bedsides since 1999.
In addition to getting his study under way, Metzner created an Arts in Medicine Club at the medical school. William Kang, a fourth-year-medical student and former concert violinist, who is conducting a similar study on music and memory loss, is a member of the club. Others include students and faculty members who could fill in for any professional orchestra member in a pinch.
The club hopes to start sending its members to play for patients at hospitals throughout Central Florida next year.
As a first step in his initiative to unite the arts and sciences, the club is hosting a free holiday concert at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, at the College of Medicine in Lake Nona. Metzner’s 82-year-old grandmother – a graduate of The Juilliard School and who inspired his love of the arts – will attend the concert.
“We know that medicine is a science and an art,” said Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine at UCF. “When we participate in the arts, we celebrate the healthy spirit that lives in us all.”