Student group uses music to comfort cancer patients

By Caitlin Opperman

Macalester’s array of music opportunities widened this week with the launch of Medicinal Melodies, a new civic engagement project spearheaded by Beth Moretzsky ’13 and Bethany Battafarano ’13. Medicinal Melodies is an effort to get students involved in local hospitals, using music as a way to raise the spirits of patients. “It just happened,” Moretzsky said. “One day, Bethany and I were sitting in my room drinking tea. We thought ‘there aren’t really any opportunities at Mac to use music to benefit the community’ and that’s something Mac should really get involved in. That’s how the project started.”

The goal of the project is to have students perform at hospitals on a regular basis. Battafarano’s friend Andrew Bendelsmith ’13 came up with the name.

“I think that when someone is in the hospital it’s really easy to become dejected and think that nobody cares,” Moretzsky said. “After the initial wave of flowers and cooking, people don’t really know what to do with you. Sick becomes the new normal.”

Moretzsky knows this from personal experience. During her sophomore year of high school, her father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting bone marrow.

Battafarano, too, has been affected by cancer. Her mother battled melanoma during Battafarano’s sophomore year of high school and is a cancer survivor.

“Seeing her go through that experience and the loneliness and fear that go along with it, I know that even something as simple as music can alter that experience,” Battafarano said. “Music puts a little moment of joy back into someone’s life.”

Moretzsky’s father, still battling cancer, serves as a continued inspiration for Medicinal Melodies.

“My dad is possibly the most positive, upbeat person I know. He reminds me not to take myself so seriously,” Moretzsky said, smiling. “When I told him about my idea and he heard how enthusiastic I was, he said, ‘Why didn’t you start this project last semester?'”

At Macalester, Moretzsky and Battafarano sing in both the Concert Choir and Festival Chorale. They hope that their project will garner interest from students across campus who may or may not be involved in music already.

“We are going to try not to limit the number of people who can participate,” Moretzsky said. “We’ve only reserved one van right now, but hopefully it will be a solid group.”

Medicinal Melodies already has support from the Action Fund, which provides grants to Macalester students for student-initiated and student-led community service activities. Moretzsky and Battafarano received a $240 grant for their proposal, money that will go toward paying for van fees and food.

“We had to prove that there was an educational component, philanthropy (action), and an impact on the community,” explained Moretzsky. “The action is the hospital part. For the education part, we are going to host luncheons where participants will talk to the campus community about their experience.”

The women will soon send out information about their first hospital visit, which will be April 17 to United Hospital.

The first time will probably be a little chaotic, but, ideally, it will be just a bunch of happy students and patients.