July 06, 2020

Lyric Opera musicians join Sharing Notes to perform for local hospital patients

July 11, 2020

When Covid-19 shuttered live music venues, Lyric Opera of Chicago orchestra members felt a profound sense of loss of not only performances but of identity and connection with colleagues and audiences. Musicians longed for purpose and a way to aid those suffering as the world watched medical and essential workers fearlessly serve. Inspired by the experiences of New York-area musicians, flutist Marie Tachouet and clarinetist Susan Warner reached out to Chicago non-profit Sharing Notes to offer their time and talents.

Susan Warner, Acting Co-Principal Clarinet of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra performs a concert via FaceTime.

Over the past eight years, Sharing Notes has improved quality of life for countless Chicago-area hospital patients through intimate, engaging, and uplifting live musical performances. When in-person concerts were no longer possible, the organization developed a system for personalized virtual performances. Sharing Notes' volunteer manager, Michael Potter-Schneider worked closely with the hospital's staff to coordinate virtual concerts that protect both the patient and musician's privacy, while still providing a meaningful performance experience. "We found creative, innovative ways to engage musically and personally with patients and staff at our hospital partners and we've already made wonderful connections with the patients we have met!" Potter-Schneider said, "We are thankful for the hospital's willingness to explore alternate performance options and to the Lyric musicians for sharing their wonderful talent."

Since Tachouet and Warner first connected with Sharing Notes, multiple members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra have joined the organization's diverse team of volunteer musicians, performing for patients at Northwestern Medicine. To protect everyone's privacy during these visits, the patient or their nurse contacts a Sharing Notes staff member who in turn connects them with a musician via FaceTime. Lyric Opera cellist William Cernota—who also performs as part of the CELLO MECHNIXX duo—said, "the power of music as a deeply human connection was evident even before we performed."

the power of music as a deeply human connection was evident even before we performed.

The repertoire selected for these concerts can run the gamut from Mozart to The Beatles and everything in-between. Sharing Notes provides volunteer musicians with an online library of sheet music that is easily adaptable for any instrument. Bassoonist Lewis Kirk and violist Melissa Kirk said, "We've performed for three patients so far and what seems critical to success is having a variety of pieces to choose from. It's fun to be able to customize your program based on feedback from the listeners. We're classical musicians but we also prepared popular tunes to have on hand." The feedback the Kirks have received from patients has been overwhelmingly positive. "The power of live music can never be underestimated," they said. "The patients we played for were visibly moved, some singing along, some crying, all of them deeply appreciative. We had conversations, back and forth, questions asked, stories told. The human connection is what makes the difference."

Lyric Opera of Chicago's Principal Flute Marie Tachouet performs a virtual concert via FaceTime.

Sharing Notes schedules virtual visits on a weekly basis, with immediate on-call visits available upon request. "This was very important to us as we set up the program [with Sharing Notes]" Tachouet said, "because we want to bring the patients comfort when they need it the most."

...we want to bring the patients comfort when they need it the most.

COVID-19 has forced many artists and arts organizations to adapt to a new virtual space, but performing one-on-one can be harder than you'd expect. "To be able to play for somebody else's loved one or family member brings many emotions to the surface...In the visits I have done, we have expressed mutual comfort in speaking to one another without masks and in getting to experience this music together."

Patients in COVID-19 units are quarantined, and all current hospital patients have experienced severe visitor restrictions and a loss of volunteer companionship since the start of the outbreak. Because the Lyric Opera musicians have also experienced feelings of isolation and a desire to perform again, the work has been mutually beneficial. "During the bedside concert, I realized I was fulfilling a need within myself," Warner says. "Three months had passed since sharing any live music with an audience so this moment was feeding my soul—possibly more than the comfort or companionship I was providing my audience of one. Live music is truly a fundamental need."

Live music is truly a fundamental need.

If you are a musician who is interested in volunteering with Sharing Notes, fill out their online application or contact Michael Potter-Schneider at volunteer@sharing-notes.org for more information. To support Sharing Notes, follow them on social media and donate to help bring music to even more patients throughout Chicago.

Header image: William Cernota from the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and his son-in-law Alex Poltawa in their duo CELLO MECHANIXX perform via FaceTime.