Written by : Transcript – Musicians on Call with Katy Epley 

Transcript – Musicians on Call with Katy Epley

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Musicians on Call with Katy Epley




[00:00:04] PF: What’s up, everybody? This is Paula Felps, and you are listening to On a Positive Note.


Music has the power to help us heal, and that’s why one organization is delivering music where it might be needed most, the hospital. Musicians On Call is a volunteer organization that connects musicians with hospitals to provide live and recorded music to patients. Its volunteers have performed for more than one million people in health care facilities throughout the US. Today, I’m talking with Katy Epley, executive vice president at Musicians On Call to learn more about how this program started, and how it has changed the lives of both patients, and the musicians who perform for them. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:47] PF: Well, Katie. Welcome to On a Positive Note.


[0:00:50] KE: Thank you, Paula. I’m so happy to be here.


[0:00:52] PF: We’re ecstatic to have you on the show. Musicians On Call is an organization that I’ve been aware of, following for quite some time. It just does such great things. To kick it off, for people who aren’t aware of what you do, tell us about the organization.


[0:01:06] KE: Okay, great. Yes. Musicians On Call is a nonprofit organization. We started in 1999. So this is actually our 25th anniversary this year.


[0:01:15] PF: Congratulations.


[0:01:16] KE: Thank you. We are very excited, and have lots of things planned. But Musicians On Call is a nonprofit, and we bring live, and recorded music to the bedsides of patients, and families, and caregivers in healthcare environments. The primary way we do that is we have volunteer guides who escort volunteer musicians from room to room inside hospitals. The volunteer guide is trained to know which rooms to go into, which rooms not to go into. And they are going to the hospital room doors, knocking on the door, and going in, and saying, “Hey, I’m Katy. I’m here as Musicians On Call. We have a volunteer in the hallway that all come in and play for you if you feel like hearing music.” So that way, the patient has the choice whether or not they want the musician to come in. Nine times out of 10, they say yes. And the guide brings the musician into the room, and we try to play something that the patient would like. So we sometimes ask, “Do you want something upbeat, something slow? What kind of music do you like?” Then, we perform a song right there at the bedside of the patient.


I can tell you about it all day long, but until you’re inside that hospital room, and can just feel the difference that music is making for the patient, their caregivers, or their family, it is just magical. We do that and we play a song. Usually, the patient says, “Oh, this is the best part of my day. I wasn’t expecting this. This is amazing.” Sometimes there’s happy tears, sometimes there’s just emotional tears, you just never know. Then, we go to the next room, and the next room, and the next room. We do that for about 90 minutes, and we try to see as many patients, families, and caregivers that we can play for within that 90 minutes. That’s what we call MOC bedside. That’s our MOC bedside program.


Obviously, with the pandemic, we had to stop doing that in person, so we switched everything to virtual. I would say those are our primary two programs that we offer.


[0:03:11] PF: Now, how did you get involved with it?


[0:03:13] KE: I was so lucky. I was so lucky I had moved to Nashville, and Musicians On Call was in New York. Our founders started Musicians On Call in New York, and they were ready to expand to Nashville. I was working at the Songwriters Guild of America, and one of the attorneys for Musicians On Call in New York was also the attorney for the Songwriters Guild of America. He’s like, “Ooh, you should come meet with Katy” because I was writing articles for musician, songwriters, the newsletters that they were receiving every month. So he was like, “She can write an article for the songwriters, and that will help you get volunteers.”


As soon as I saw the videos, if anybody’s ever has been to Musicians On Call website, and been hooked via video, I was hooked. I was so lucky to meet with our executive director then, and she sent me the job description, and said, “If you know anybody, here’s the position we’re looking for.” I actually sent it to so many people. I was like, “Oh, you’d be so good at this. This organization is fantastic.” It took me like a minute before I was like, “Wait a minute, I want to do this job.”


[0:04:16] PF: It’s like, can I unsend those emails.


[0:04:19] KE: Yes. I was lucky. I was 24 years old, and they selected me to run the Nashville branch of Musicians On Call. I was our only employee, and that was 17 years ago. I’m still here and I’m still loving every minute of it.


[0:04:32] PF: That’s amazing. What made the founders choose hospitals. There’s many different settings. You can do nursing home, there’s so many different settings, where music can be beneficial. What is it that made them identify patients in a healthcare setting as where they wanted to focus?


[0:04:49] KE: It’s actually a really great question. Our two founders, Michael Solomon, and Vivek J. Tiwary. Michael, 25 years ago, his girlfriend was Kristen Ann Carr, and she had cancer. Her mother was actually Bruce Springsteen’s manager. So as she was in the hospital receiving treatments, Bruce would actually come in and play music for her, and she’d be like, “Oh, go play for some of the other patients.”


When Michael, after, sadly, Kristen Ann Carr passed, his friend, Vivek also had a similar story where he lost someone that he loved. Together, they started bringing musicians into hospital lobbies to perform for patients, or patients in group settings. This was at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. One day, the nurses asked if they could come play music for some of the patients who were not able to come to the common area. When they did that, they just saw it was magical, and that they wanted to bring these experiences to more patients who can’t leave their beds. That’s when Musicians On Call was born.


[0:05:51] PF: I cannot imagine the amount of emotion that is involved. For one thing, a lot of times, people in hospitals feel forgotten. We also, as we touched on music is such a healing force. Then, you bring those things together. What do patients do when this happens for them? When someone walks in and says, “May I play you a song?”


[0:06:12] KE: Really great question. It is so emotional. We can go to the same floor every single week, and every single week, it’s different, because it’s different people in the hospital. I think – it really depends what unit it is too. If it’s acute care where people are in and out of the hospital, for like a planned reason, it’s maybe a little less emotional. But if there’s someone, like the trauma unit, where something traumatic has happened, and you’re in the hospital, and we’ve seen music, lower blood pressure, it improves your outlook, and your overall mood. I think, it’s again, very emotional, but you can see – sometimes, I remember being in the hospital one time. It was at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. We went in and it was a small child. They said, yes, you can play some music. The dad was hunched over on his chair, with my hands folded, clasp tight.


Just by the course of a song, you could just see him, like lean back in his chair and relax just a little bit. To see how music can really transform the environment is just amazing. I’ve been there 17 years, I could tell you a thousand stories.


[0:07:20] PF: I bet you have a few stories.


[0:07:22] KE: But I think the biggest thing is just helping improve the stress levels for patients, and the caregivers. We’ve seen caregivers tell us like, “Oh, I request to work on Thursday nights, because I know you’ll be here.”


[0:07:33] PF: Oh, that’s great.


[0:07:34] KE: It does bring this uplifting experience for everybody involved.


[0:07:39] PF: And is there ever reluctance on behalf of the hospital? Especially when you’re trying to approach a hospital, and we’re going to bring this program in, re they hesitant? Or are they, “Yes, we’ve heard about you guys, let’s go”?


[0:07:51] KE: Yes. I think in a little bit olden days, they were a little hesitant because it was just a little bit unknown. And music was this kind of like a nice thing to do. But I think now, all of the studies and the research shows that music really does have a direct effect on people, and it can improve patient’s experience in the hospital. It can improve caregivers, their experience in the hospital. I think now, because there is such a scientific connection with the healing power of music, and how it can have such a positive effect on people. That now, people are welcoming us with open arms, and we’re not able to expand fast enough to keep up with the demand for our programs.


[0:08:30] PF: That’s a really great problem to have.


[0:08:32] KE: It really is.


[0:08:33] PF: How do you get the artists and what level do they have to be? Or let’s talk about the criteria for an artist that wants to be part of Musicians On Call?


[0:08:42] KE: Sure, absolutely. We have a volunteer musician application, where you can go to our website, musiciansoncall.org, and you can click on the volunteer button to then apply to become a volunteer musician. So a local musician, they would need to have a soothing sound. We’re not going to bring in any like crazy, heavy metal artists, so yes. An acoustic soothing sound is what we’re looking for. We have musicians of all different genres, and we provide the training. So as long as a musician has the talent, we can then tell them what songs are appropriate. We’re not going to sing anything about loneliness, dying, all that kind of stuff. We provide all that training.


[0:09:24] PF: We probably stay out of the country song book pretty heavily.


[0:09:28] KE: Yes, there’s quite a few that we probably shouldn’t play. But we do have a song database that’s like, these are the songs that work well in a hospital environment. So we have a suggested list to pull from. That’s really like our local musicians. Those are the people who are tried and true, volunteering once a month, and giving back to their community. Then, occasionally, we’ll have the artists such as like Darius Rucker, or Kelly Clarkson, or someone that just you hear about, that’s a celebrity that comes in, and performs. That helps so many ways. Because one, if you’re a patient and Darius Rucker walks into your room, it’s like a once in a lifetime thing, and he’s amazing. That is obviously fantastic. Then, also the buzz that that creates, then people hear about us. It really spread the message of Musicians On Call.


But we also can’t do that with just one or the other. We need these celebrities to spread the word, but we also need the local musicians. That way, we can keep our program running on a weekly basis. It takes both.


[0:10:27] PF: Especially, Nashville, so many artists, so many people working to make it and great songwriters, and that’s going to help them to. It’s probably beneficial for the musicians because they’re trying something new. They’re honing their craft, but in a very different setting.


[0:10:44] KE: Absolutely. I’ve had so many musicians who are like, “Oh, man. I can play in front of 5,000 people. But like, oh man, to be right in our hospital room is so intimidating.” Which to me is just baffling, because I’m like, “You can get up there on stage and play for like so many people, but this is what you’re doing.” I mean, I think it’s true, because you’re being vulnerable. You’re right in someone’s hospital room at one of their scariest moments sometimes. But I think, the musicians get so much out of it. The volunteer guides, haven’t really talked a lot about the guides, but the guide is the one that’s escorting the musician. They know what to do, they know what to say, they’re there to support the musician if there is a situation that they don’t know what to do. So anybody can be a volunteer guide.


I mean, you just have to have a love of music and a love of people, because you’re the one knocking on the door of the hospital room, not knowing what’s going on on the other side. So you know, as long as you can be comfortable in that environment and be the one communicating with the patient, anybody can be a volunteer guide. Then, I think for both the guide and the musician, you both just get so much out of it. Because when you leave that hospital, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we just made a difference.” You remember each of those rooms that you went to, and you have those stories that you carry with you.


[0:11:59] PF: That’s fantastic. You’ve seen it affect patients. How do you see the artists who participate be touched, and change. I cannot even imagine, because as you said, it’s so different than getting up on a stage and playing. They’re sitting there, and they’re watching this person really being moved and changed by the music. What does it do for the artist?


[0:12:18] KE: I think it’s so meaningful, because they’re getting to use their gifts, and their talent in a way that’s helping others. I think in the music industry, you can become so jaded by all of it, and the rollercoaster ride of the highs, and lows of success, and all that. For them to just be able to give back to people who want to hear – their captive audience, they’re in there, and they’re loving it. It’s a way to connect, it’s that point of connection between the artist and the musician. Then, we have folks like Charles Aston. I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with Charles Aston.


[0:12:48] PF: Oh, yes.


[0:12:49] KE: Deacon Clayborn from the show, Nashville, and now he’s on the Outer Banks. But I mean, he is one of the most amazing human beings, he so giving. He started doing our program several years ago. Now, he’s a board member and serves on our board of directors. I think that you can see someone like that where he could do anything he wants with his time and his talents, and he gives back so much to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, because he had a daughter that battle that when she was a child. To think that he has been so moved over the years to join our board, and to serve us in that way, I think is a real testimony to say how much it does for musicians.


[0:13:30] PF: How many musicians would you say you’ve had through your program over the years? Do you have any calculation of that?


[0:13:37] KE: I know before the pandemic hit, we had 800 current volunteers. Those were volunteers that were actively volunteering with us once a month. That was volunteer musicians and guides. But if I were to look back, like historically over 25 years, that’s a really good question. I don’t know how many people have volunteered as a total.


[0:13:55] PF: There’s an infographic that needs to be made.


[0:13:58] PF: Yes. Now, you have another program I’m really interested in. Wanted to talk to you about, and that’s your songwriting program. I think this is incredible. We’ve done some things on songwriting with soldiers, and there’s some other things. Tell us the Musicians On Call songwriting programs about.


[0:14:13] KE: This one is really cool. I would love to tell a story about this if it’s okay.


[0:14:17] PF: Please.


[0:14:18] KE: It would have been probably 12 years ago, and was my first time doing this program. There used to be a facility in Nashville called Bordeaux Long-Term Care. It was a place where people went to live basically probably for the rest of their life because they needed long-term care and they weren’t going home. We wanted to go there, and we did this as – you can do it in different time. You can do it all in one day, or you can do it in different periods of time. But this one, because it was a long-term care facility, we wanted to do it over a course of six weeks. Once a week, or I think, once or twice a week we would come and meet with the same group. The hospital selected a group of residents to come and write songs with us.


The first day we showed up, everybody was like – the people were just walking in, they are like, “What are we doing? What did we sign up for?” Then we explained. We said, “We’re going to write songs.” Harlan was our volunteer musician, and we were going to come together as a group and write a song. So, they were like, “Okay. Yeah, you know.” Then the next time we came, everybody was on time. Then the next time we came, they were there waiting for us.


[0:15:25] PF: Oh, wow.


[0:15:26] KE: It was so cool to see just the change in attitude by the end of it. But basically, what happened is, we got together and said, like, “What do we want to write about? How are we feeling and all that?” The group decided they wanted to write about things that they were grateful for.


[0:15:42] PF: I love it.


[0:15:42] KE: One man had a long ponytail braid, and he was in a wheelchair, and he didn’t have any legs. So he was grateful that he still had his hair, and he was grateful that he had a chance to dance before. Then, there was just a variety of things like that, that they said. There was one woman who was probably in her eighties. If you’ve ever been to Nashville, you’ve probably driven down Music Row, and you see the banners that are on Music Row, that’s like number one song here, number one song. This woman had said that she moved to Nashville, and she – it was her dream to see her name on one of those banners on Music Row. That just kind of stuck with us. Anyway, they wrote this song called, I Am Grateful.


By the end of the six weeks, we came in, and we brought in recording equipment. And some of the nurses came and joined us, and we recorded this song called, I Am Grateful. So then, back then, it was a CD release party. We had pressed it onto a CD, and we had pictures, and art, and all that, and then we have a CD release party. So we came back, and we had the group perform and sing at this long-term care facility, and we passed out CDs, they got to autograph it. We had a banner made with everybody’s name on it, with the song on there. It was just the most incredible experience for everyone that participated for the musicians helping to write the song, for the patients. They got to have this experience that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have.


For that six weeks, they are different people, talking about like the power of music, what it can do. It was just really, really amazing. That’s MOC songwriting, I would say in a nutshell, but that was probably a really long story to tell.


[0:17:23] PF: No, that’s a great story. I love that. How often do you do that now? Is it by special request or – because that’s some intensive process?


[0:17:34] KE: Yes. Yes, it is. That’s not one of our ongoing programs. We do that one on a case-by-case basis. But we did that during the pandemic, with a VA hospital in Phoenix, actually, where an artist was on Zoom. The patients at the VA were in a group setting, and they actually wrote a song together through Zoom. It doesn’t have to be a six-week period, and it usually isn’t anymore. But we can go in with recording equipment and write a song in a hospital room with a with a patient nowadays, just record it right then and there.


It’s not a program that’s on an ongoing basis, but it’s one that we do when we have a special request, or a grant, or something like that, that makes sense.


[0:18:13] PF: How cathartic is it for the patient to be able to work on this song, and get their emotions out through lyrics.


[0:18:21] KE: I think it’s magical, really. I think the one thing, though, I will say is that we don’t do music therapy. There’s a music therapy process by which their therapists are pulling out those emotions and helping people work through them. Where we’re providing entertainment for the patients and providing like a therapeutic activity. If it does kind of get into the more emotional – we always have somebody like a recreational therapist, or child-life therapist or someone there that can kind of handle those, the raw emotions that might come up through it.


But I think, regardless of the type of activity, I think that it is one that is helping people express their emotions. I was just telling a friend, I didn’t grow up in a household where we talked about our emotions, and thought deeply about where do they come from, and what am I actually feeling. That’s not normal. I think it’s starting to be normalized, but I think, any working on like your emotions, and it’s kind of digging deeper, and being curious about what you’re thinking, and feeling is helpful for all of us.


[0:19:24] PF: I love it. What’s next for Musicians On Call? What else is going on? And then, also, what are ways that people can get involved, people who aren’t musicians? Can we talk about that too?


[0:19:35] KE: Yes, absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, it’s our 25th anniversary of Musicians On Call. So we have a big 25th anniversary campaign coming up, where we’re going to have different celebrity hospital visits, and new cities that come on board with Musicians On Call. We’re expanding to Tampa this year. We’re expanding to Orlando, which is really exciting. We’re going to be having events in Nashville and New York to celebrate the 25th anniversary.

Those are some upcoming things that we’re looking forward to.


Then, we are – what else is going on? We’re looking for volunteers. That’s the biggest thing. Yes, the volunteer guides and the volunteer musicians that want to go into the hospital, or they want to volunteer virtually. Like I said, anybody can be a volunteer guide, and the volunteer musicians just need to have a really soothing sound. They can go on our website to fill out a volunteer application.


[0:20:27] PF: I think this is such an incredible program. So grateful for the work you’re doing and thankful that you had time to sit down to talk with me about it, because I think it’s something more people need to know about.


[0:20:38] KE: Oh, thank you, Paula. Thank you for inviting us to come and share Musicians On Call with you and your listeners who are so grateful for this opportunity.




[0:20:49] PF: That was Katy Epley of Musicians On Call, talking about the healing power of music in the hospital setting. If you’d like to learn more about Musicians On Call, follow them on social media, or see how you can be a volunteer. Just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast link.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of On a Positive Note and look forward to joining you again next time. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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