By Hilary Gridley
Like many teenage boys, Micah spends his time mastering Bon Jovi on guitar. Unlike most rock fans, he started learning chords while in treatment for a life-threatening immune deficiency at a Portland hospital.
Now, he’s thankful he picked up a guitar. “Music is therapy and can do unbelievable things, that’s my philosophy,” he says. “It can heal, comfort, soothe, bring joy, bring people together, and it’s just so powerful.”
Micah and other young people with serious illnesses may spend years in a hospital ward, but thanks to Children’s Cancer Association (CCA), these sterile environments can become places where children are able to grow and play. For almost two decades, its MusicRx program has delivered bedside music performances to kids like Micah and their families in pediatric hospitals in Oregon and Washington.
The flagship program proved so successful that in 2012, CCA brought it online and to make music medicine available for children around the country. Thanks to founder Regina
Ellis, her dedicated team, and a slew of artists including The Decemberists, Passion Pit and Gavin DeGraw, MyMusicRx.org now provides children with free music games, digital instruments, exclusive video greetings from their favorite artists, and more.
Their on-the-ground presence is growing as well; the program teamed up with Fader and Converse to host a rock show for kids in March during SXSW at the Fader Fort featuring Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside, Jenny O, and The Cardboard Songsters.
We had a chance to talk with Ellis about what inspired her to start MyMusicRx, the musicians who have supported it, and how anyone can get involved.
Music For Good: What inspired you to start MusicRx in hospitals? What was the initial reaction to the program?
Regina Ellis: The experience of having my oldest daughter hospitalized for two years inspired MusicRx. She and our family felt isolation, boredom and pain. When CCA pioneered MusicRx on the pediatric floor of the children’s hospital where my daughter was staying, the initial reaction was met with overwhelming excitement, not only from children but from families who were comforted by the music. Even the medical professional staff benefited from the therapeutic, music medicine experience that was being offered to their patients.
M4G: How did the program evolve over the years? Was it a challenge to bring it online?
Ellis: Responding to the requests of other children’s hospitals and of families facing life threatening illnesses with their children, we developed an online extension of MusicRx which scaled our in-hospital music program making it available to kids across the nation 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
CCA launched MyMusicRx as an online extension of our original in-hospital program, MusicRx, in 2012. The initial reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. Immediately a troupe of corporate partners jumped on board to bring MyMusicRx.org to life. These program champions included Converse, TheFADER/cornerstone, Nike, Anomaly, Atlantic Records, among others.
That support continues today, and more and more champions are joining our cause. Together, we have thoughtfully launched v.2 of MyMusicRx.org, an enhanced digital music medicine experience. We’ve been listening and learning from experts in the digital field and through MyMusicRx we are offering a unique music medicine experience that seriously ill kids and teens aren’t able to get anywhere else.
M4G: How do artists and MyMusicRx work together? Who have you worked with in the past?
Ellis: Any artist can get involved with MyMusicRx – they can record a music dedication (we call them music prescriptions), share MyMusicRx with their social networks, promote MyMusicRx at their concerts and events, become an ambassador on a deeper level with the program, and so much more!
Nathan Followill (Kings of Leon) & Jesse Baylin, Fun, Passion Pit, Gavin DeGraw, Channing Frye, Matt Nathanson, Foster the People, and more have recorded music prescriptions with us.
M4G: If you could bring any artist on board, who would it be and why?
Ellis: We have been very fortunate to have amazingly talented artists support MyMusicRx. Chris Funk of The Decemberists is a champion of our program. Together he and his wife Seann McKeel, both founders of the YouWho kids rock variety show, inspired a group of artists and performers to play a benefit concert for MyMusicRx in Portland, OR. John Wesley Harding hosted the show.
Chris, along with Colin Meloy and Black Prairie (other members of The Decemberists), performed alongside kd Lang, Ben Gibbard, Storm Large, Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey (formerly of REM), and others.
We recently interviewed the Flaming Lips, crossing off a name on our ever-growing list. We’d love to work with Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, T.I., B.o.B., and any and all musicians who want to share the power of music medicine.
M4G: What part of the program do kids get the most excited about?
Ellis: We’ve seen the most excitement around the exclusive video greetings created by artists. MyMusicRx creates a private “lounge” where the artists speak directly to the kids and teens, prescribing songs that help lift their moods and bring them joy.
M4G: How can people around the country get involved with MyMusicRx?
Ellis: Seriously ill kids and teens (ages 5-20) can visit MyMusicRx.org and register for a free account.
Artists and stars can visit JoyRx.org or email us directly at MyMusicRx@JoyRx.org.
Music lovers of all ages can download the free MyMusicRx app to make iTunes purchases (5% of proceeds go to CCA).
They can even prescribe music as medicine, sharing songs that match a kid’s mood or lifts their spirits, through the iTunes portal on the MyMusicRx.org site.