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“The one-on-one comfort of a lullaby is a birthright—a fundamental part of being human—both to give and to receive,” says Elizabeth Simkin, IC professor of performance studies. She wondered: could she recreate the intimacy she shared as a mother singing to her infant by playing familiar songs to elders?

Tapping into her talents as a professional cellist, Elizabeth played bedside at Cayuga Medical Center, at area high-skilled nursing facilities, and for people in hospice care.

“The results were deeply moving,” Elizabeth says. “The most common responses to my music sessions were tears and sleep, followed closely by conversation.

Energized by her experiences, Elizabeth got to work developing Exploring Music as Medicine, an interdisciplinary service learning course that examines the medicinal power of music. Elizabeth coteaches the course with Jayne Demakos ’78, lecturer of performance studies.

The class pairs students with elders in the Ithaca community working one-on-one as musical companions, offering friendship, attention, and what Elizabeth describes as a “fulfilling, heart-warming exchange through the bridge of music.”

The students learn music familiar to their companions and play it live during their sessions. Not only are many Alzheimer’s and dementia patients given moments of joy and lucidity—the students benefit, too.

“Our exploration of Music as Medicine is a lively, transformative, and joyful one where the combination of human and musical connections come together to benefit all concerned,” say Elizabeth and Jayne.