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Heifetz Institute, Augusta Health program connects musicians to patients, frontline workers

heartstringsA new program will connect Heifetz International Music Institute musicians with Augusta Health patients and the frontline workers who support them.

The HeartStrings partnership features intimate “bedside performances” for individual patients as well as larger group concerts, in order to provide inspiration and a sense of community for those who in many cases have been isolated for weeks or even months.

All performances will be conducted remotely via Zoom.

“From patients at Augusta Health to our music-starved patrons to struggling school children throughout the region, we recognize that ours is a community in need of the very things we aim for our students to provide: Communication, Engagement, and Inspiration. I can think of no higher calling for our young alums, who themselves are struggling to contend with the shattering effects of the pandemic on their budding careers,” Heifetz Institute President & CEO Benjamin K. Roe said.

The Heifetz Institute is best known for its flagship summer program and music festival, which attracts top young classical string players from around the world to study and perform on the campus of Mary Baldwin University.

In 2020, the Institute was among the first summer festivals in the world to innovate an entirely online version of its program in response to the global pandemic, bringing together 100 students with more than 40 faculty members from 14 countries across nine time zones.

As part of the program and in keeping with the Institute’s commitment to community service, Heifetz students presented 73 virtual one-on-one concerts with the support of Augusta Health’s Recreation Therapists and Nurses to patients in the hospital and at Augusta Nursing & Rehab, as well as to residents at Brightview Baldwin Park Senior Living.

The effect of these virtual bedside performances was therapeutic for the patients and transformative for the students.

Fueled by that experience, the new HeartStrings partnership will be even more thorough with programming, concerts, and safe socially-distanced appearances that will take place four days a week from mid-February to mid-May.

This initiative is a key component of the first-ever Heifetz Ensemble-in-Residence Program, or HEIR, which will bring outstanding alumni of the Institute to live, work, study, and perform for a two-month period under the supervision of the Institute’s leadership team in Staunton.

These artists will present nearly 200 virtual bedside concerts (totaling over 64 hours), as well as full ensemble performances to be broadcast throughout Augusta Health’s facilities.

“The emotional impacts of social distancing and COVID illnesses are much larger than we could have imagined. The Heifetz Institute is offering a wonderful community service at the perfect time,” said Dr. Clint Merritt, Augusta Health’s chief clinical officer for population health.

Merritt and Shelley Payne, the director of recreational therapy at Augusta Health, will oversee the HeartStrings program and implement these cross-generational interactions where they will have the greatest impact within their network.

“Heartstrings is a unique and special program – personal performances by highly trained musicians for patients to support their healing,” Merritt said. “We learned last summer that this program is so effective at lifting our spirits during times of illness and stress, and we are very grateful that our collaboration with the Heifetz Institute will continue. Warm human connection and beautiful music at the bedside is perfect therapy during the pandemic.”

HeartStrings and its parent Heifetz Ensemble in Residence program is supported by the Augusta Health Foundation, The Blackburn Inn & Conference Center, and the Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School, with additional support from the Staunton Downtown Development Association, the Walmart Community Foundation, and individual donors to the Heifetz International Music Institute.


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