Songs to Soothe the Soul

In the early days of the pandemic, staff across Penn Medicine were searching for ways to connect as they found themselves separated from their colleagues by social distancing, layers of PPE, and remote work. For Penn Medicine at Home (PMAH)’s music therapy team, it seemed clear that the way to bridge the divides caused by COVID-19 and to maintain a sense of community was to call on the power of music.

They initially created the Team Tunes program in an effort to share musical inspiration with their hospice, palliative care, and home care coworkers, but after just a few weeks, they also struck up a partnership with Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Bereavement coordinator and music therapist Molly Hicks and music therapist Anna S. Cephas play their guitars“Team Tunes was our way of caring for our colleagues and each other,” said bereavement coordinator Molly Hicks. “When so many other aspects of life felt unrecognizable, collaborating on these songs felt stabilizing, and was a deep source of creativity and happiness.”

Staff from PPMC and PMAH were invited to request their favorite songs, and the music therapists would create new arrangements and record the pieces. Bridget McQuate, PPMC’s communications specialist, then shared the recordings in the hospital’s “Need to Know” newsletter.

“We asked staff to include a note with their requests about what the songs meant to them so others might reflect on them in new ways,” said per diem music therapist Anna S. Cephas, MA, MT-BC. “We may not always have the words to talk about the challenges we’re facing, but listening to music together is a way of creating space for those feelings and celebrating our own resilience in relationship with others.”

The team shared nearly 100 recordings in PPMC’s email newsletter, offering a welcome distraction for readers amidst all of the pandemic’s changes and challenges.

Music therapists Melissa Srolovitz, Jenny Swanson, Katie Opher, Jenny Borgwardt, and Carolyn Kantor participated in the Team Tunes programFrom reggae to folk, the team covered a wide range of genres, including Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, played by child bereavement coordinator Katie Opher, Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly”, sung by child hospice music therapist Jenny Borgwardt, and Charlie Puth’s “One Call Away”, performed by bereavement coordinator Carolyn Kantor. They also occasionally paused the music for meditations or poems, like child bereavement coordinator Jenny Swanson’s reading of Mary Oliver’s “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness.” The team concluded the program this past March with a group rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” — one of several songs that proved especially popular with staff and was re-released.

For music therapist Melissa Srolovitz, MM, MT-BC, the experience helped her to feel “engaged with colleagues” during the COVID upheaval “while also helping me to feel connected to my music in a way that I would not have felt otherwise during the isolation of the pandemic.”

“We are so grateful to Team Tunes for sharing their music, words of inspiration, and support during the past year,” McQuate said. “They brought a dose of hope and a virtual hug during some very dark days for our staff. And to keep turning out the songs for a whole year was truly a remarkable feat. We were so lucky to have them by our side when times were tough.”

Song Requests

  • "Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
    Requested by Jordan DiSanto-Leung, RN, MHA (Observation Unit)
    “This song definitely helps us stay motivated. It’s a good amp-up song for everyone; it lifts their spirits and helps them get in the mindset they need before a tough shift.”

  • “I Rise” by Madonna
    Requested by Rhonda Browning, MSN, RN, CEN, TCRN (Emergency Department)
    “When we feel defeated by the tremendous pressure of the pandemic and the effects of violence we witness every day, instead of giving up, we rise.”

  • “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
    Requested by Robin Edinger, RN (Perioperative Care Unit)
    “I saw that a hospital in New York City played ‘New York, New York’ whenever a COVID-19 patient was discharged and immediately thought ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ could be used here!”


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