Throughout time, music has been called many things – the universal language, a great healer, even a reflection of the Divine. Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” While there’s little doubt about the power of music, the COVID-19 health pandemic has given new appreciation for the effect it has in our daily lives.
Over the years, studies have suggested music can have a profoundly therapeutic effect on individuals — from helping improve the recovery of motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, reducing symptoms of depression in patients suffering from dementia, or helping patients undergoing surgery to experience less pain and heal faster. With this in mind, community partners UCHealth and the Colorado Symphony united to provide the healing power of music to cancer patients across Colorado.
The fight against cancer is one far too many people have experienced, either through personal experience or through a friend, family member, or loved one. Over 1.8 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2020 and more than 600,000 lost their lives to various forms of the disease last year. The fight can be a long and lonesome one, often spanning weeks, months, and years of difficult treatment with pain, fatigue, and uncertainty as an unwelcome companion. Since the onset of the COVID-19 health pandemic, that struggle has been compounded by the difficulties of quarantine isolation, which has separated patients from their community and support systems which are vital as outlets of support, robbing the sick of the simple comfort of a warm embrace, a held hand, or a shoulder to lean on.
In an effort to meet the needs of the moment, UCHealth and the Colorado Symphony approached Rendever, a virtual reality company that has partnered with UCHealth to help staff manage stress and provide comfort to patients, about expanding its virtual reality catalog. The three organizations brainstormed the idea of bringing an immersive live concert experience to patients undergoing cancer treatment during COVID-19.
Utilizing Rendever’s virtual reality technology and equipment, a groundbreaking concept was filmed and brought to stunning fruition. The virtual reality experience centered around the Colorado Symphony’s limited audience and socially distanced performances of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre from September 2020. Rendever utilized virtual reality cameras and recording equipment positioned directly centered within the orchestra, creating a captivating virtual concert experience that puts patients inside the action with the use of virtual reality headsets.
Meet UCHealth patient Mary Hill, a longtime classical music fan, who is battling stage three pancreatic cancer. During her 70th chemotherapy treatment, she received a special surprise when she was one of the first patients to experience the Colorado Symphony’s performance virtually, as she was transported from her infusion chair to center stage at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre.
“[The performance was] a destresser. Stress increases your pain levels. It messes with your sleep. [With VR], you’re just immersed in this experience,” Mary said. “You don’t think about, ‘Oh my God, I have cancer.’ This is really an escape.”
For the Colorado Symphony’s Susan Cahill, watching Mary’s reaction to the music was a moving experience.
“You put music out there and you always hope that it does its job of healing and bringing joy, but it’s really rewarding to actually see that happen,” said Cahill, Colorado Symphony Bass player.
This virtual reality concert experience debuted in UCHealth clinics during winter 2021 and will continue to bring comfort and joy to hundreds of patients in the days and months to come. The concert experience will also be made accessible to all of the senior living communities and hospice organizations that Rendever works with across North America.
“Being able to deliver Mary a musical performance where she feels like she’s in the audience is the ultimate gift to give her,” said Nikki Caputo, UCHealth’s Senior Director for Experiences and Innovation. “Music alone is her medicine. Adding VR to it and allowing her the ability to be there was pure joy.”
This virtual reality concert experience debuted in UCHealth clinics during winter 2021 and will continue to bring comfort and joy to hundreds of patients in the days and months to come. It will also become accessible to all of the senior living communities and hospice organizations that Rendever works with across North America.
When VR and music therapy converge, patients are reminded that the world is truly full of magic, and it’s still theirs to be enjoyed, no matter what hospital room they’re sitting in. Mary’s story was especially touching for Rendever’s Cofounder and CEO, Kyle Rand, who was motivated to start the company after his own grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and moved into a senior living community. For him, these are the experiences that make it all worth it.
“Since we started working with UCHealth in 2017, we’ve made a lot of magical moments together. Watching patients like Mary get transported on stage with the Colorado Symphony is special, and it’s a hopeful reminder of why we do what we do,” said Rand. “When we come together to build experiences like this, we create a bright light in the face of a disease that can easily feel terrifying. This is why we’ve worked so hard on this technology, and why we will continue to prioritize partnering with organizations like UCHealth and the Colorado Symphony.”
UCHealth has been an invaluable partner for the Colorado Symphony, including providing vital assistance over the last year in the development of the health and safety plans which have allowed the orchestra to safely resume limited operations following the initial COVID-19 shutdowns. The successful implementation of those plans has led to the development of additional projects for release on the Colorado Symphony’s virtual stage and allowed the orchestra to remain together as an ensemble in preparation for an outdoor summer concert season in 2021.
As this important community partnership continues, the Colorado Symphony looks forward to bringing the healing power of music to communities throughout Colorado for years to come.