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Musicians Healing by the Bedside – Pete Griffin, CEO of Musician's on Call [Podcast]

 

SHOW LINKS:

Musicians On Call’s website:
musiciansoncall.org

Musicians On Call’s Social Media:

https://www.facebook.com/musiciansoncall
https://www.instagram.com/musiciansoncall/
https://twitter.com/musiciansoncall
 

0:01: Live bedside music: Charles Esten

4:04: Why Musicians On Call (MOC) brings musicians to hospital bedsides

6:25: The power of volunteerism

12:50: The importance of flexibility and giving

13:27: Musicians get just as much as they give

14:19: Everyone gets something out of it: patients, musicians, and caregivers

18:27: What it is about music that’s healing for people, physically and mentally

19:58: Live bedside music: MAX

20:20: The difference between healing and curing

21:29: Studies on people using music before surgery

22:57: How healing with music is becoming more mainstream

25:08: MOC’s mission to deliver music to more hospitals

26:09: Jim shares his experience of being in the hospital and wonders how music could’ve helped him personally

28:11: Pete shares a story about how bedside music “woke up” a non-responsive little girl in a coma

31:54: Live bedside music: Andrew McMahon’s “Swim”

33:27: Pete shares a story about musicians helping the survivors of the Las Vegas mass music festival shooting—some of whom played at the festival

37:02: Pete shares a serendipitous moment with a Ray Charles song

46:13: How celebrity artists learn about themselves through volunteerism

48:00: MOC’s “Music Pharmacy”

51:21: How to get involved and support MOC

55:00: How MOC supports front line caregivers

56:57: The 10-year vision for MOC

2:00:00: Why Pete dedicated his life to service

 

Transcript

 

Pete Griffin:

When this is all over, I wish you rest, good rest. More than all that, I wish you a life that’s good.

[Singing]

Jim Donovan:

My name is Jim Donovan, welcome to the show. I am so glad that you’re here. Today, we have a very special guest on the show. His name is Mr. Pete Griffin. He is the CEO of Musicians On Call. It’s a great organization. They send musicians into hospitals to play at patient’s bed sides. They play for the healthcare workers and all the families of the patients. Really, really moving stories in this interview. I can’t wait for you to see it, and let’s get started.

Pete Griffin:

I live in Nashville. I’ve been in Nashville for five years now.

Jim Donovan:

All right. How’s everyone doing down there? I know this is a crazy time for a lot of people.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, listen, myself and the Musicians On Call team and most of our volunteers at this point have all been healthy. I think that Nashville, and Tennessee, certainly having its challenges on keeping people healthy and doing the right things. But a lot of people down here and even the musicians that are really struggling to get by have been pretty good about the distancing and masks and doing their part to stay safe. Because honestly, the more we do now, then the quicker we can all get back to some semblance of normalcy, whatever that means.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, right? Even normal before was a little weird. Sometimes a lot weird. Now, this is… Add a layer of wow.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah.

Jim Donovan:

For sure. Well, I think that we… I keep telling my son, he’s 15, and I said to him, “We’re in this crazy time, but what’s possible now since we have all this space that wasn’t possible before? What can you do with that?”

That seemed to ring a bell for him. I’ve watched him adapt and start to change like his way of doing his day. He’s taking better care of himself, doing the exercising. I don’t have to prod him to do that. We keep looking for all the silver linings.

Pete Griffin:

You got to. We have a daughter… Also, we have a child, and it can be tough because they’ve lost a lot of their usual socialization and interactions with peers. We’ve been pretty intentional about “What do we want to do? What are some new hobbies we want to try? What are some things you want to learn to try to make the most of it?” At the end of the day, we can’t control this world that we’re living in, but we can control how we spend the hours of our day.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, right. And how we react to the things that are challenges. That’s the stuff we can control.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah.

Jim Donovan:

One of the things I want to share with my listeners and the viewers, is you’ve got this amazing organization. It’s called Musicians On Call. You’ve been CEO for about six years now. Is that right?

Pete Griffin:

Yep, that’s right.

Jim Donovan:

For someone who’s never heard of Musicians On Call, could you tell us a little bit about what you do?

Pete Griffin:

The story of Musicians On Call was actually a pretty interesting one. As an organization, we started 21 years ago now in 1999. When we started… We have two co-founders, Michael Solomon and Vivek Tiwary. When they started the organization, they actually didn’t intend to. Both of them have lost family members and loved ones to cancer, and both of them also worked in the music industry. This was actually in the early ’90s. They said, “What can we do to use music as a way to show our gratitude to all those caregivers that took care of our loved ones, as well as the patients that were in the hospital with them?”

Using their network they got Wynton Marsalis to come and play at Sloan Kettering, in New York. They set up something in the lobby, and they brought patients down, they brought caregivers down and family members, and he played. As you’d assume, it was amazing. The hospital said, “Well, let’s do that again.” So, they did it again and again.

Then it was one day, I think it was around 1995, ’96, one of the nurses came up to them and said, “Listen, this is all fantastic, but there’s a lot of patients who can’t leave their rooms and they’re missing out on this amazing thing.” That was when the idea which became Musicians On Call started. They said, “Well, why don’t we bring a musician that will actually go room-to-room to play for all those people that can’t leave their rooms because of their condition or their treatment or how they feel?”

That is really what started the Musicians On Call and that is our mission, which is that we bring live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. We’re not going to be the musicians you see in the lobby, necessarily, we’re going to be musicians going room-to-room to visit all these patients, whether they’re children, adults, veterans, that need some healing and some pick me up and a break in their day. We use music and our volunteers as a tool to bring some of that joy and healing to patients, caregivers, and family members.

Jim Donovan:

So it’s a mostly run, as far as the musicians go and the people that help them, they’re volunteers.

Pete Griffin:

That’s right. We have a small staff that’s mostly based in Nashville, and we have a couple of people in New York and a couple of people in LA. This small team of about 17 of us, we manage all these programs across the country. The programs, like you said, are run by volunteers. Volunteers guides and volunteer musicians. I think the really cool thing about it is there’s a lot of people that, unlike yourself, are awful musicians. I’m actually one of them. I love music, and I’m a complete hack when it comes to playing.

But I would love to be involved with music charity, but oftentimes you can’t. With us, you can become a volunteer guide of ours, and you don’t have to be a musician. A guide is one of our volunteers that’s trained at a specific hospital, and they know how to navigate the hospital, and they know what it means if they see certain things in the patient’s door, that means you can’t go in or you have to put on a face mask, and they bring the musician room-to-room.

Then of course, the other volunteers that we have are our volunteer musicians, and those obviously are musicians that play for the patients. Those musicians range. There’s young musicians, old musicians, musicians from every genre of music. Typically, our musicians play cover songs because the idea is really to bring some familiarity and some happiness. That often, people relate better to songs that they know.

Jim Donovan:

Sure.

Pete Griffin:

But we also, we train all of our volunteers. All of our musicians have to provide samples. You can imagine, we have a high quality of standards for our musicians. The last thing you’d want is someone learning how to play the guitar in front of someone who can’t leave because they’re in their hospital bed. We have great musicians, and it’s fantastic-

Jim Donovan:

Get this guy out of here!

Pete Griffin:

Right. Imagine you can’t run and someone’s practicing their skills.

Jim Donovan:

Right. You can’t even shoo them away at some points.

Pete Griffin:

Yes.

Jim Donovan:

What are some of the qualifications a musician has to have to be able to come into a hospital room? It seems like you really have to do some really particular things for them?

Pete Griffin:

Obviously, the first thing musicians do is they fill out an application for us and they submit their music. We obviously are looking to see that these are professional level musicians. They don’t have to be signed artists or anything, but they need to be professional level, high quality, and they got to be able to do what they’re doing typically by themselves on the move, because we’re not lugging around equipment. Typically, you have a guitar, or maybe we have a situation where there’s a small keyboard that they could bring around or something like that.

Then we go through a training process, we let all of our volunteers know more about how to interact with patients, how to maintain patient confidentiality. Things to say, things not to say. Typically, when we visit a patient, the process is a guide will go into the room, they’ll knock on the door, they’ll say, “Hey, I’m Pete for Musicians On Call. We’ve got a volunteer here that’s interested in playing a song for you. Would you be interested?”

Now, we do that because we want to give the patient the ability to say yes or no. You don’t know how they’re feeling. Honestly, you don’t have a lot of ability to make decisions when you’re in a hospital. Just the fact that they can say yes or no is a bit empowering, because you got to take your meds a certain time, you got to eat at a certain time, et cetera.

Jim Donovan:

Right.

Pete Griffin:

If they say yes, then the musician comes in, and they typically just do a little short intro of themselves and then just usually start by saying, “Hey, would you like to listen to something slow and soothing or something a little bit more upbeat?” Just to gauge the headspace of where that patient is at today.

Then depending upon what they say, then usually the conversation goes, “Well, what type of music do you typically listen to?” Or the musician might say, “I know a lot of country songs or I know a lot of rock songs.” They try to whittle it down to something, and then the musician will play a song.

That’s when the magic really happens because the power of music just overtakes everything. I mean think about it, you walk into a room, and most likely the people in that room are having the worst day of their life, literally.

If you’re a young child battling cancer, or you’re parent in the room with your child battling cancer, it’s the scariest time in your life. And so you walk into a lot of sad faces. Then you see three or four minutes later, there’s people smiling, laughing, singing along, clapping, dancing, sharing stories, and you realize how just a simple song performed by a volunteer can completely transform one of the darkest moments of someone’s life.

You see the power of music and certainly you want to replicate that and do that as often as you can once you see the impact of that.

Jim Donovan:

Absolutely. How long do they typically stay in the room, the musicians?

Pete Griffin:

They usually stay for at least one song. It really depends upon what the hospital looks like that day. I’ve been to hospitals where, we have a set list of rooms that the hospital says, “We’d like you to visit these patients.”

Everyone’s there, everyone wants to see a song. You’re playing for like 50 or 60 different people during the course of that hour or two.

Then we’ve gotten to hospitals and people are getting treatment, are asleep, aren’t feeling well, and then you end up only having two or three people that want to hear music.

In those situations, the musician will certainly play more than one song. But we gauge it on how busy the hospital is at that time.

Jim Donovan:

Sounds like anyone that’s volunteering really needs to be flexible and to know that it’s not really about them so much, right?

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. Honestly, our volunteers are so incredible. The feedback we get from patients and their families as well reflects that. They say, “The music was awesome, but just knowing that there’s people out there willing to take time out of their day to visit us, complete strangers, because they know we’re going through a tough time means the world to us.” That is what our volunteers are all about.

The funny thing is, while they go into it that way, they often leave saying, “I feel like I’ve gotten more out of this than I’ve given.” The feelings that you get knowing that you’re helping people, that you’re making their day better, that you’re bringing some happiness to a really sad time in their life or a challenging time, it changes you as a volunteer and it keeps you wanting to replicate that feeling, which is why we have no turnover with our volunteers. Once people see the impact they can have, they never leave, and it’s a great problem to have.

But it’s also a challenge because we have, like in Nashville, we have a two year waiting list for volunteers because so many people want to help out. We’re grateful for that, but we also are trying to figure out ways that we can use those volunteers more quickly to help more people.

Jim Donovan:

Sure. It just seems like the whole system, it’s the thing I love about your organization, is it’s set up that everybody wins. The musicians win, the patient wins, the volunteers that are walking the musicians to find the room, they win, maybe even the people, the families that are in the room with a patient get to win. That’s beautiful.

Pete Griffin:

We do focus on that. You hit the nail on the head. We say, we’re playing for three audiences; patients, family members and caregivers. Because honestly, all three of those groups of people are dealing with challenges every day in the hospitals. It’s not just the patients, it’s their family members that are stressed out because of what’s going on. It’s the caregivers that deal with a lot during the day.

The other thing too, is the reason that we have guides to go along with the musicians and don’t just send musicians out there is for quality control reasons. It’s for safety reasons, and it’s also because our program doesn’t tax hospitals. We set it up in a way so that we don’t have to have nurses or caregivers go around with the musicians and keep an eye on them and take time out of their own day and their own jobs to do it. We set up our system so that we’re vertically integrated.

Once the hospital approves our program going in and approves the system that we work in, we recruit the volunteers, we train them, we schedule them, we do feedback and follow up, we check the quality. The hospital, we interact with them, certainly, but they don’t have to spend any of their busy time at the hospital watching over this program, which is a big help to hospitals.

Jim Donovan:

Right. I’ve been around a lot of musicians over the years, being one myself, navigating a hospital for some of us, that’s a deal breaker.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. Honestly, it’s like having two people there makes it easier. Again, we all know a lot of musicians, and while they may be up there on the stage playing, they may not be the most socially unawkward people. Having that guide there that’s trained to interact, allows the musicians to do what they do best, and to get in there and play and take some of the stress. Because, by the way, a lot of people have anxiety interacting with strangers or introducing themselves, or even being in a hospital. Having that guide with them really makes it a lot easier for our volunteers.

Jim Donovan:

Especially those first couple of times for someone who’s brand new to a medical setting, it can be very disorienting. Like you said, it can be scary and stress inducing in and of itself. I love that support from the extra volunteer. Then again, that person also gets the knowledge and the good feeling that hey, I made a difference today. Isn’t that what so many of us want?

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. Our volunteer guides are absolutely critical to keeping our program going and working with the hospitals and being also that calming and trustworthy voice as they interact with patients. Our guides have this ability to just lower stress levels when they come in there and relate to patients. Honestly, lying in a bed and having a stranger come in and play guitar and sing to you can sometimes be a bit awkward. Our guides are great at making it not that way and making it seem like hey, this is a fun thing and we’re doing it for you, and we want you to be happy and providing a real nice break in the day for these patients.

Jim Donovan:

Right, like a social buffer.

Pete Griffin:

That’s right, yeah.

Jim Donovan:

Okay. Really makes sense. Now, I’m wondering just in your own opinion, you’ve seen these kinds of sessions, you’ve heard the stories. What do you personally think it is about music that’s healing for people?

Pete Griffin:

The thing that I see most often is that music allows you to change your time and place. You’re in a hospital bed and your current time in place may not be one that you want to be in. You’re scared, you’re stressed, you might be in pain, you’re worried. But when you hear a song that you know or even a song you don’t know, but just the act of playing music and have a live performance in front of you, allows you to go to another time or place.

Often, for most people with music, that is a better time and place. It’s a time where you’re having fun, or a time associated with a memory, or a time associated with thoughts of people that you love and friends that you love.

I think that escape is one of the reasons that the science has showed that music actually provides healing benefits, because that escape and that change in time and place in your brain allows you to become more optimistic. Allows you to feel happier, which improves your heart rate and your stress levels and lowers blood pressure and helps patients with pain management. Things that science has shown, I think, what happens in our heads. Which I don’t know we completely fully understand at this point still, but I think that’s what I see the most often.

Jim Donovan:

I think sometimes people get confused on the difference between healing and curing. Healing is really just bringing someone back to a state of balance, even for a short time.

Like you’re saying, if I can get out of my reality, which is pain, maybe, or if it’s despair for some people, if I can change it even for four minutes during a song, like you’re saying, that is a healing process.

Someone touching my shoulder and making me feel like I’m not alone… That’s a healing gesture, right? It brings even just a moment of balance back to a really imbalanced situation for many people in that situation.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, that’s totally true. Again, there’s studies that come out every year that show more and more what music is doing to help you. There was a study that came out last year, I think, from Duke University, that showed that they tested two groups of people, one, people that were going into a surgery that took a drug that helps lower stress level and anxiety before surgery. And another group of people were given music and allowed to listen to music before the surgery. They actually found that the folks that had music introduced to them before the surgery, actually had lower stress levels and anxiety than the people that were taking medicine.

It not only shows the healing power of music, but it also shows, what can we look at music to do down the line to lower costs for patients that aren’t having to buy these drugs or people that don’t feel comfortable taking drugs? Or are worried about dependency? Can music be used as a tool for that? There’s just a lot of things that the science is really showing that music can do.

I think when we started, 21 years ago, it was kind of like a hokey thing. Like, “Yes, you’re bringing musicians in, that’ll be a nice thing to do.” But 21 years ago, we were knocking on doors saying, “Please let us in.”

Now, fast forward to today, and we can’t even keep up with the demand from hospitals that are saying like, “We need you guys here because we know what music can do. It’s part of the 360 care experience for patients and we think it’s an important part of the healing process.”

Jim Donovan:

It’s interesting because this is has been how humanity has helped bring itself back into balance for as long as we have record. We’ve been playing and singing and dancing for eons. Now, finally, Western medicine is coming to the table. And I think it’s in large part to organizations like yours, who knocked on the door and said, “Hey, we’d like to do this.” Having somebody in charge go, “Well, what in the world would they want to do that for, and why do they think it helps?” Then they find out, and all of a sudden, here we are in 2020 with demand. That’s exciting.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. When you think about it too, it’s funny because it’s something that we all already know, but we may have not applied it to medicine, and that type of injury.

Because think about it, if you’ve ever been broken up with, there’s a song that reminds you of that breakup… There’s a song you went to your room and listened to on repeat.

A lot of people that have been married, you’ve got your wedding song and every time you hear that, that song makes you feel better and takes you back to that place.

So we all know that music does that and gets us through both of our highs and our lows. But it took a little while, I guess, for us to connect those dots and say, “No, this is actually something maybe we can use in hospitals as part of that healing process.”

Jim Donovan:

I think too, that having just a constant presence in a health setting gives the people that are there the idea, we need to look into this even further. Then the research keeps happening, and then more people get ideas about, and then all of a sudden the field just keeps growing and growing and growing, which again is very exciting as people that are both interested in how music can help people to heal.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, listen, we’re the largest provider of music to hospitals in America. We’ve played for about 850,000 people, through these one-on-one performances. But that being said, we play for around 90,000 people a year.

There’s about 36 million people a year that are hospitalized.

Think about that, we’re the biggest organization doing this, and we’re not even scratching the surface.

Jim Donovan:

Right.

Pete Griffin:

There’s a lot of other organizations that do similar work to us on a hospital level, or on a community level. We work with a lot of them just to try to support what they do to give them bandwidth.

Listen, we’re not in a competitive business… What we do is one that we’re trying to let the rising tide lift all boats here, and whatever we can do to help other organizations start this type of thing in their community, at their local hospital… We want to do it because honestly, we’re in a race to some degree because we know how much this can help and, it’s on us to do more of it so that we can really reach more people and improve their days and their healing.

Jim Donovan:

First of all, that’s beautiful, and second, I can say firsthand how important it would be or how important it could have been for me personally to have something like your service bedside when I was in ICU last year.

When I looked at my hospital bill—I won’t even tell you what that amount was—but I was really curious to see what they gave me. I was in a pretty bad way. I had sepsis and all kinds of stuff.

But I looked at the itemized report of all the different drugs that went into me, I needed them at that time. But I also had five surgeries and I wonder, even if a couple of those narcotics could have been replaced by music, how much better that would have just been for my body… for my liver.

I think about all these people that have these multiple surgeries and long-term hospitalizations. Even if they could reduce by 10 percent what they’re putting into their body, how much that might help their health once they get out.

Pete Griffin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wouldn’t it be a beautiful world to live in where you go to the doctor and they give you a prescription to go see Rusted Root play?

That was what you needed to get better and improve whatever you’re going through.

It’s the world I’d like to live in. But honestly, it sounds a little crazy, but it’s true.

I honestly would love to see a future where when you’re looking at that itemized bill, that there was $20 that the insurance company paid towards X organization that provided music to you while you were in the hospital.

Jim Donovan:

But I’d like to see that number to be $2,000 and not $20.

Pete Griffin:

Right. Well, that’s true too.

Jim Donovan:

Can you tell us a story about something that you’ve seen bedside or maybe one of the stories that a musician has told you about a certain circumstance where they went bedside, and they had some sort of experience with the patient?

Pete Griffin:

I can tell you about 10,000 of those stories.

Jim Donovan:

Tell us a couple. Yeah.

Pete Griffin:

There’s a number, there’s so many that stand out. I can tell you a recent one is probably it was last month, and we had Andrew McMahon do a program. People may know him from his band, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness or Jack’s Mannequin, but just great musician. We had gotten reached out to by a UCLA, Mattel Children’s Hospital, and they had a patient there that… We work with them normally, but they had a patient there that was interested in some music, and specifically Andrew McMahon.

So, we reached out to Andrew, who is absolutely a lovely guy. Aside from being a talented musician, just a great human. Just one of those people you want to be around and appreciate just how he lives his life. Anyway, so we connected Andrew, and we’re doing this all now, virtually because of the pandemic with this patient. Her mother’s with her and the patient is in a limited response, cognitively challenged because of an accident that they had.

When she was first in the hospital, I believe she was in a coma for like two months, and they were trying everything and not a lot of things were working. The music therapists at the hospital came in and said, “Have you guys tried music therapy?” Like a lot of family members when patients are non-responsive, and I’ve seen this myself, they’re like, “Well, if you want to, you can. So and so is non-responsive, so, I don’t know that it’s going to matter, but sure.”

Well, the music therapist said, “Well, what kind of music does she like?” She said, “Well, her favorite artist and the first concert she went to was Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.” They put on this Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness song, Cecilia And The Satellite. Next thing you know, the girl starts to move her finger. I think a tear came out of her eye. This is the first time that she had responded physically to anything. Not medicine, not treatment, not movement, the first reaction was brought on by music.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a story like this. Now, fast forward to last month, we’ve got Andrew McMahon on his computer, playing that song for her live and seeing her react and her mom next to her in tears. Just knowing that music and Andrew in that song changed their lives and putting her on a path where she’s now progressing and improving and everything. But that first glimmer of light was because of a song. If that doesn’t inspire you to write a song or play a song or listen to music, I don’t know what will. But that is the type of stuff that we see, and it’s incredible.

ANDREW MCMAHON:

I know we have some UCLA people in the house and I certainly was treated at UCLA and that’s where I got better. So, I got a lot of love for that. I thought I would play a tune for you called “Swim.”

[Musical interlude: Andrew McMahon’s “Swim”]

Jim Donovan:

Wow, All the hair on my arm stood up when you said that.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. We’ve seen all sorts of things because we deal with all ages of patients, all types of conditions. Another story that comes to mind is, a couple of years ago after the shooting in Las Vegas… We didn’t actually have programs in Las Vegas, but, being in an organization based in Nashville, we actually had a lot of volunteers of ours that were performing at that festival, as well as people we knew that were at that festival. We just felt like, we need to step up, we need to do something. We’re not in Las Vegas, we don’t have programs yet, but we got to figure it out.

Within a week, I was able to organize a group of musicians to fly out to Las Vegas to go room-to-room to play for the survivors of the shooting.

Jim Donovan:

Wow.

Pete Griffin:

We went to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, which we took in 199 of the shooting victims, and we went room-to-room and you saw some just really horrific things. It was very emotional when we were playing for these patients. It’s always a little bit emotional, but, everyone we played for was in tears and just overwhelming. It was hard to even just be volunteering out there doing that because it was just so intense. But, we knew we were doing good.

Thinking about it in hindsight, it was like, I’m thinking, “Why was this so much more emotional?” Number one, you got people that were music lovers. We knew that we were playing for music lovers because they were all shot in a concert… We knew music was an important part of their lives, which was part of it. Then I think the other part of it was the fact that the last time they heard music, they were getting shot at. What we did was bring music back to them in a way that was positive and happy.

I think a lot of the emotion came out because it was a reminder, that that is what music is. Music is healing and happiness. A couple of musicians we brought with us were actually musicians that were at that festival playing that some of those patients were there to see. Just to think about it, within a week’s time, they’re watching them on stage and then they’re at their bedside playing for them. It just really helped them.

We had feedback from those patients where they said, that was the highlight for me, that was a turning point of my recovery. We even had one of the victims become a volunteer of ours in Las Vegas, and now volunteers regularly as a guide for us. But again, I could go on and on, but it’s these stories of what music can do to help people in even the toughest situations, never ceases to inspire us, which is why we just keep doing it.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, that’s tremendous. That’s tremendous. Again, it’s like in the most intense of situations—almost parachuting in to that situation—bringing some balance back to that person’s life, and then the musician’s life too, because that’s traumatic for everybody. Everyone gets some damage from an awful thing like that.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. I’ll tell you one more story, which is one of my favorites and it just, again, it speaks to the fact that you never know what’s going to happen when you go into a room, you just never know. You don’t know what you’re walking into.

Jim Donovan:

Right.

Pete Griffin:

One of our musicians went into a hospital room and there was an older gentleman there in the room as the patient, and then he had his adult daughter there with him in the room… family member there with him.

A musician goes in, and he starts playing, and, or not done start playing, he says, “What kind of music do you like?” The guy was like, “I like jazz, R&B… that type of stuff.”

The musician says…Alright, well they’re not necessarily one person jukeboxes, they play what they know. He says, “Well, listen, I got a Ray Charles song that I know. Let me play this for you.”

He starts playing this Ray Charles song. I wish I could remember which one it was. But he starts playing it, and next thing he knows, this guy is lying on the bed and he’s bawling.

As a musician, and as a volunteer, sometimes you don’t know… You’re sitting there volunteering and playing, you’re like, “Am I doing this bad? Did I mess it up? Am I causing this person more pain? Should I stop playing?” You don’t know what to do.

He kept playing and he’s looking at the daughter, and the daughter is not knowing what’s going on and stuff, and the musician just kept playing.

At the end of the song, we’re like, “How was it? Was that all right?” He was like, “That is one of my favorite songs of all time.” He was like, “Really?” He was like, “Yeah.” The daughter didn’t even know this, but his wife had passed recently. The musician was like, “Well, you’re a Ray Charles fan?” He’s like, “That was my wife’s and I’s wedding song.”

It’s like, of all the songs in the universe, you didn’t say play this song right here. He said, “I like R&B and jazz.” The next thing you know, the musician is picking up the Ray Charles song that was his wedding song. You sit there and you’re like, “Man, we have to keep doing this.” That’s why I said our volunteers, they don’t stop because you get that moment, and you’re like, “I was part of magic, I was part of this thing that’s almost out of this world.”

I told the musicians too, I’m like, “Listen, I can go into a room and be nice to people and try to make them feel better. But musicians have a gift that has the ability to change people’s lives in the darkest time of their life.”

Think about that skill set. To be able to transform someone from a bad moment to something positive, just through your own talent and abilities and hard work and volunteer time, it’s why our musicians, God bless them, we love them so much and we’re grateful for all that they do with us.

Jim Donovan:

It’s really like alchemy. If you have someone who can, as a musician, let themselves be real, and just bring that, how it can spark somebody to have that kind of a transformation.

I think about, all the musicians out there and all the different reasons why we think we want to do music.

I think, as a musician matures, then what you’re talking about is the thing, we’re looking for that magic.

It’s that thing, it’s way beyond applause. Applause is wonderful, but that’s the juice is that kind of transformation and connection with people.

It’s just such a beautiful thing to hear that there’s people in the world that are on that trail. We don’t get to hear about that enough, I think.

Pete Griffin:

It’s so funny because to your point there, most of our musicians are local professionals, but we get a lot of notoriety because we also have a lot of the famous celebrity musicians come in and play. When they do, that’s great for the patients, but it also shines a bigger light on us. But two quick anecdotes on that front. Number one, is Rachel Platten, who’s an incredible musician and has gotten a lot of popularity through her song, “Fight Song” and others, she has been volunteering with us for I think 16 or 17 years, since day one, almost.

She volunteered with us so often in New York because she would play shows in bars in New York, and the staff would be the only people there. She would call us up and be like, “Listen, I need to pick me up. I need to keep on moving forward as a musician, and I’m starting to lose gas in my tank, because this is a real grind.” She would come to us because she wanted to help people, but also because it helps put fuel in her tank. We’ve got a lot of artists like that.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was going around with Keith Urban, and he’s playing arenas, all over the world, and he’s in the hospital and he’s telling me, “I love playing shows in front of all these people.” But he’s like, “This one-on-one performance is the most meaningful thing that I’m doing.” He’s like, he can play for all the arenas full of people that he wants, but he’s like, “This is what I would do all day long, because this is the best feeling in the world. This is what it’s all about, this is why I started writing music and playing music is for this connection and this feeling right here.”

Jim Donovan:

It strips away all the peripheral stuff; the lights, the screens, the merchandise, the ego sometimes, and it gets to it. I think that’s when music heals the best, when we’re just in that kind of a space.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. It’s funny because we’ve seen a lot of that, especially now during the pandemic because, obviously, our in-person programs are not happening because the hospitals have shut down to volunteers and visitors. The good thing for us is a couple of years ago, we started virtual programs. We were able to… We set up the infrastructure that musicians could play remotely for different hospitals around the country. Thank God we did because that’s allowed us to continue bringing music to patients and caregivers that are really needing it now, despite the fact that they can’t be there in person.

But some of the moments that we’re having right now are some of those powerful moments we’ve seen, even though they’re happening virtually. Because I think, number one, stress levels are really high in hospitals, and there’s a lot of isolation because you can’t visit a hospital. Imagine, it’s already tough being a patient, but I’ve got parents that have kids battling cancer, and they can only have one parent at a time visiting the kid. The stress levels in the isolation are killing people right now.

In that sense, our program is really important and valuable, even more so because we’re one of the only programs still offered in hospital. That’s been great. But then on the artist side, I think, having to do virtual has made everybody more vulnerable. Even some of these… Especially these bigger artists, who are now doing these performances on computers and phones, and everything else, and there’s no publicist, or hair and makeup or whatever there. It’s like, no, we’re just humans. This is it, we’re just humans interacting, trying to lift one another up.

That stripping away of all the noise has just led to some of the most beautiful interactions and really getting to know a lot of these bigger artists in a different way, and I think created stronger connections. We’re really excited to be able to continue to do it, and just to speak to the demand. Typically, we played between 5,000 to 7,000 people a month in person. Since the pandemic started, we’ve been playing for over 10,000 people a month, virtually, which speaks to the demand right now.

Jim Donovan:

There’s no shortage of need. That’s so incredible. I imagine too, one of those… I keep looking for the silver linings in this crazy time we’re in… that the artists who are used to the big, maybe learn something about themselves and learn something that might be inspiration to inform what they create next because they’ve had true, authentic experience.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, I feel like I’m seeing that right now. Again, there’s also not that safety net. For a lot of the bigger artists, I think there’s more changes than a lot of their traditional artists we have volunteering, because there’s no safety net, there’s no one there to guide you through it. We’re literally there with… Gosh, we’re there with Sia, as she’s making sure that her Zoom is working properly and that the mute is off and everything. She’s lovely and amazing to work with. Not that she couldn’t do that anyway, but, you’re just seeing an artist as big as her—international superstar—and you would just expect, like, oh, there’s got to be 1,000 people there to help. But it’s like, no, these are just great humans, and it strips away all the layers that you think might exist, and you’re able to see just how wonderful these artists are.

Again, we just feel so fortunate that they’re willing to volunteer with us, because there’s certainly not a shortage of opportunities and things for people to do. We just feel lucky that they can share their talents with us and the people that we’re serving.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, definitely.

Something I saw that you offer is this thing called “music pharmacy.” Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Pete Griffin:

Our music pharmacy, it started, probably 15 years ago with record labels donating all their extra CDs to us, and us having boxes of CDs that we would package up to hospitals with CD players and send them out so people could listen to music in their beds. Obviously fast forward to today’s day and age, and what we do is we donate tablets and headphones, with streaming music to hospitals so that patients can listen to music in their beds.

What we’re doing is acknowledging the fact that, listen, we can’t have a live musician there 24 hours a day, but we want to make sure that people have access to music in any form while they’re being hospitalized.

It also allows us to send these tablets and headphones to hospitals in cities that we may not be at yet, with live program. It allows us to make sure that facilities have some sort of music resource until they have live performances.

It’s great because, it provides connections to music for people, but we also look at it as a way to level the playing field, because so many of us have smartphones, and we could listen to music on our phones.

But what if a person can’t afford a smartphone? What if someone is in a hospital that doesn’t have resources to buy that type of stuff and provide that to patients, why should they not have access to music?

In that sense, we’re trying to level the playing field a bit by making sure that people, or hospitals that may not have the same resources can still access music. Just this year, we got another 270 music pharmacies put out there in the world. This is just since the pandemic started, and trying to connect more people to music, thanks to donations from Amazon Music and Bose to provide them.

We’re certainly excited about that. Then we’re also working on using those tablets to start doing virtual programs. Initially, we would just use them so people could stream music, but now we are starting to connect them to Zoom, so that patients can have one-on-one experiences with artists in their beds.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, and that reduces risk for everybody, especially during a pandemic, obviously.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, exactly. We don’t anticipate being in hospitals again, at least until late next year. I just think that given the time it’s going to take for a vaccine to come, and for everyone to get it and the hospitals have their procedures in place. I hope it’s sooner, but we’re just anticipating as an organization that hey, for probably this year and next year, let’s focus on the virtual and then obviously, we’d be happy to start the in person again as soon as it’s safe for everyone.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, this is the time to build out something new, and realize that live will never be replaced. But we can add to it. Like you’re saying, we can reach people that we might not ever be able to get on this format? Absolutely.

Pete Griffin:

Right. Yep.

Jim Donovan:

For all the people that are watching out there, or listening, I get that your organization, it’s run on generosity. It’s run on people being willing to be a part of something. As I look through your website, which you can make sure you tell us what the address of that is, because I’m not remembering. As I look through it, there’s so many ways that a person can get involved from every day involved to one time involved. Could you tell us a little bit about how they can find you and then also how they could be involved?

Pete Griffin:

Sure. Our website is musiciansoncall.org. When you go there, there’s a lot of things you can do. You can see our program in action. We’ve got some videos, especially recently with our virtual programs. You can see a lot of these great artists who have volunteered with us, you can watch how those programs go. It allows you to get a sense of all these things that we’ve been talking about and see it for yourself. The second thing is, we are always looking for volunteers, even for cities that we’re not in. We are continuing to grow, and even if we’re not in your city now, we hope to be soon.

We’re always looking for both volunteer guides, who don’t have to be musicians, but they can be the ones that take the musicians around and volunteer musicians. That’s great. We have musicians uploading songs to YouTube using the hashtag #MOCHeals. What we’re doing is we’re reaching out to hospitals and letting them know that they can go to YouTube and use that hashtag to find songs that volunteers are uploading as songs of healing.

You can sit there and say, “Hey, I’m Jim, and this is one of my favorite songs, it makes me feel better,” and play it. It will spread that word to hospitals so that people can listen to it. Then as always, as any other charity, we take donations. We raised most of our money from individuals donating money to us to corporate partners that sponsor our programs or sponsor our events. But that’s really it. We’re really just fueled off the generosity of people.

It’s important to note that we are a smaller organization that is incredibly efficient. We have a platinum rating by GuideStar, which evaluates charities on how efficient they are in spending their money, and how well run they are. The Non-Profit Times just named us last year, the sixth best charity to work for in America–

Jim Donovan:

That’s awesome. Congratulations.

Pete Griffin:

That’s just like… Yeah, thanks. There’s only 17 of us helping to get performances to 90,000 people a year around the country. We couldn’t do that without the support of people. If you want to get involved in the music charity and be part of this magic, we certainly welcome it.

Jim Donovan:

This is the thing, we’re in a time right now where people are wondering, how can I feel better? I feel so awful, and everything is so terrible right now, my systems are all blown up.

Well, one thing that you can do is help somebody. That’s one way that anyone can not only feel better in themselves, but make a difference. Even if that difference is just for a few moments. Bringing some peace to someone who’s in pain.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. It’s funny, one of the other things we started during the pandemic was we created these e-cards for caregivers. We had a bunch of our musicians record a song that they think is like a healing song for them, or one that they’ve seen that’s well-received in hospitals. If people go to musiciansoncall.org, if they donate, I think it’s $5 or $10, then you can put an email address of one of your friends that’s a caregiver, and they’ll be sent a song from one of our musicians, like a video they could play.

Jim Donovan:

That’s amazing.

Pete Griffin:

It’s just a way to thank our caregivers that are on the front lines. That’s one thing we talked about too, is like, everyone’s really wanting to support these frontline caregivers that are doing double-duty now because of this pandemic. Our organization is still bringing music to those people every day. By supporting us, that’s a very tangible way that they can bring some relief and healing to these caregivers as well.

Jim Donovan:

That’s the thing, they’re taking on all this risk and all the stress, and there doesn’t seem to be much of an end in sight. Again, this is something that you can do. Absolutely.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. We’re finding too, it’s not like hospitals have COVID-19 doctors and nurses, these are nurses and doctors that have their regular duties that they’re doing, and now they’re also being called to be specialists and prepared for these COVID-19 cases. It’s really a stressful time for our caregivers. We’ve always valued our caregivers, certainly, and we’ve always performed for them as well, but we feel like now more than ever, they need all of our support.

Jim Donovan:

Absolutely beautiful. Where do you see Musicians On Call in 10 years?

Pete Griffin:

Well, right now… In 10 years, I hope we’re all around the world. Right now, we’re U.S.-based and we’re growing rapidly across the country.

What we’re working on now is building a digital platform so that we can automate a lot of the things that we do manually. The onboarding process for volunteers, the scheduling of volunteers, the connecting volunteers virtually to patients… It’s really our vision that we can create a digital infrastructure so that if you’re one of our trained and cleared and approved musicians, you could log into the system, and book your own visit at your local hospital.

Or if you’re on tour, you can say, “Hey, we’ve got an extra day in Kansas City, let me go on and see if they need me to volunteer in Kansas City that day.” Or “I’m sitting on my tour bus or I’m sitting in my bedroom, let me log on to see if there’s someone I can perform for virtually, that’s in the hospital right now.”

We’re creating that system as we speak, so that we can get closer to that 36 million people that are hospitalized every day. Being able to provide support for anyone that needs support via music. Then once we’ve conquered the U.S., the hope is that we can start spreading some of that love overseas, because we do have a lot of interest around the world for it, and that’s certainly something we want to tackle in the future.

Jim Donovan:

I think about being on the road for 15 years, and how many thousands of hours I had sitting in a freaking hotel room, twiddling my thumbs, wondering what in the world can I do? I’m so bored, and this would have been the perfect thing. That’s very, very exciting. I love to hear that.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, I hope we can… We will create that. I hope we’re able to get it up and running soon. But to your point, I have a number of musician friends that are like, “How did I not learn another language this year? All the time I sat in the day, I could have gotten Rosetta Stone and I could be speaking a new language every tour if I actually used my time wisely.”

Jim Donovan:

Yes, it’s because I played video games for those 9,000 hours.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah, right? Oh man, or I’m getting emails of these YouTube videos that they found on YouTube that have four views, and I’m like, “How did you even find this video?” They’re in the bowels of the internet, because of all the downtime that they have. It’s like, maybe we can create a platform for people to better use their downtime.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, isn’t it true though, that the system is the solution. If you have a good system and you refine that system, then all of a sudden, people can get really big benefit. That’s what I love about what you guys do.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah.

Jim Donovan:

Pete, I noticed in your bio, that you work for Musicians On Call now, but you also work for Big Brothers and Sisters, and you work with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. What is it about service that’s so important to you?

Pete Griffin:

It’s kind of interesting, because I’ve wrestled with this notion as well in my own life, because, I spent the first nine years of my career at MTV. Worked in the corporate world at MTV in doing that.

Being involved in the community is something that’s always been part of my life and my family’s life growing up, but as I went to college, and after college, I always approached it as, “Well, you have your job, and then it’s important that you do something in the community to volunteer to help other people,” which is nice. I think everyone should look to do that, is to volunteer however they can.

But I never looked at it as a career. I remember the moment literally, I moved up the ladder at MTV, and I had gotten to this point where I was working on this international marketing team for MTV, I was traveling internationally with MTV… cool brand. At that point, it was still back in its heyday. It was kind of that job I’d always dreamed of.

When I got to that point, I realized I couldn’t have been any less happy. That’s a troubling point. I think there’s a lot of times… I had musician friends, I had friends of all walks of life that have felt that way. You get to this point, and you get there and you’re like, “Well, this is it? I’m not happy. I was spending all that energy.”

It took me a while, but I was like, “Well, what makes me happy?” I had that 3 AM thought, I’m sitting there in bed, like, “What actually makes me happy?”

At the time, I was teaching kids science at the Museum of Natural History in New York on Sundays, I was volunteering with a program that helps women from domestic abuse and drug abuse backgrounds learn some business and life skills. I was helping on the genocide on Darfur and working on an HIV/AIDS campaign. This is all I was doing in the little time I had outside of work.

I was like, “Well, if that’s how I’m spending my free time, then why am I not doing that with my day, instead of trying to squeeze it in once a week or whatever?” So, I resigned from that position that I had at MTV, only to have MTV hire me back three months later to come and manage their social campaigns. Doing the campaigns that they would do on social causes. That’s how I segued into this space. But it took that moment of really just me figuring out like what makes me happy.

Listen, it’s not like some noble thing that I’ve done, it’s what makes me happy. If someone works in accounting, and that’s what makes them happy, that’s great. If someone’s a musician that makes them… That’s great. I am doing the thing that I just found makes me happy.

What I tell people too, is that some people that do think it is somehow noble to work in non-profit and do that with their life. I say to them, “Listen, we are all part of this. We are all spokes in the same wheel here, and we can choose to be part of it.”

I tell my friends that are bankers, like, “Make your millions of dollars, but make sure that you donate some of that to charities like mine.”

We can all choose to use what we do in life and the skills that we have and the networks we have to help people, if we actively say that that’s what we’re going to do. If that’s what we all do, then, most of our problems will be resolved. Because as long as we’re all playing a part in that process, then I think that’s what matters. That’s how I ended up in this industry, I guess.

Jim Donovan:

What a cool story.

I love what you’re saying, which is that, there’s not one of us that has to do the whole thing. We each do a little bit. Some of us do a little more, a little less, but we’re all contributing to the greater good, if we choose to. I’m so glad that we got to talk about that today. Pete, I want to thank you for taking the time to being here today. As you roll new things out, if you’d ever like to come back and talk about them, I could talk to you for another 10 hours. But I know you’re a busy guy. Would love to have you back sometime, and we are going to push this out everywhere that we’ve got and get the word out. One more time, what’s your website, again?

Pete Griffin:

It’s musiciansoncall.org.

Jim Donovan:

You’re on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, all those places too?

Pete Griffin:

Yep. If you just go to @musiciansoncall on Instagram and Facebook and stuff, that’s how you can find us on the social networks.

Jim Donovan:

That’s beautiful. Well–

Pete Griffin:

We’ve got to get you volunteering as well.

Jim Donovan:

Let’s talk about it. That sounds fun.

Pete Griffin:

Yeah. But listen, I would love to chat with you some more, and just share what we’re doing and just chat otherwise because I love what you’re doing, too.

We didn’t get to talk about it, but I would love to talk to you about how you’ve been spending a lot of your time and energy because you’re also making a big impact on connecting the dots between music and healing for many people. So, thank you for that.

Jim Donovan:

I appreciate that. You know, once I end the call here, hang on the line for a second and we can do a quick chat.

Pete Griffin:

Okay, cool.

Jim Donovan:

All right. Pete, thanks again, man. Good to talk to you and best of luck on everything that you’re doing. Please keep up the good work.

Pete Griffin:

Will do. Thank you.

Jim Donovan:

Well that’s it for today. I appreciate you tuning in. Remember to come see us on our social media channels, on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and YouTube. Just search “Jim Donovan Sound Health.”

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