Annenberg Radio

USC musicians bring joy to cancer patients

The organization is called the Medicinal Music Makers. Their goal is to use music as a tool for healing and bring happiness to the patients and caregivers in the cancer ward.

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A group of dedicated musicians based at USC donate their time to try to bring some joy to cancer patients at Keck Hospital. They call themselves the Medicinal Music Makers. Their goal is to use music as a tool for healing and bring some happiness to the patients and caregivers in the cancer ward.


Time in bed in the cancer ward can be lonely and monotonous, especially during COVID when visitors are restricted. So USC’s Medicinal Music Makers got together and gave a concert on YouTube for cancer patients to watch whenever they feel the need.

[Music: mashup of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”]

This is a mashup of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

[Music: Piano]

Playing piano is the founder of Medicinal Music Makers and USC graduate student, Valerie Narumi. Narumi says the music is especially uplifting when the patient has a personal connection to a song.

VALERIE NARUMI: On the off chance that one of the videos maybe holds like a really important memory to them, you know, that would be honestly really, really beneficial to the patient or whoever is watching it and be like, ‘oh, this is comforting right now.’

[Music: Piano]

That was concert pianist and USC music professor Antoinette Perry.

ANTOINETTE PERRY: I feel it’s a link to the spiritual. It’s a link to the soul, which can be very difficult to achieve in today’s society. You know, it’s a very busy world. It’s a very competitive world. It makes everything stop for us, it’s very helpful in bringing us beauty and love and but also expressing our negative emotions also which is needed.

The comfort these musicians provided might have been greater before COVID when they could play in person in the hospital lobby. Genevieve Nelson is the creative director at USC’s Institute of Arts in Medicine.

GENEVIEVE NELSON: So just having this experience of sitting in the lobby and feeling transported by beautiful music, whether it’s an enormous cancer center lobby or a hospital lobby, is so wonderful.

Nothing alters our mood and sense of time like music.

NELSON: And when you’re a cancer patient or a loved one of a cancer patient, time is like really, really important. How you spend that time becomes critical.

The music can relieve anxiety, says USC oncologist and researcher at the Institute of Arts in Medicine, Jacek Pinski.

JACEK PINSKI: Especially music can be shown to improve the anxiety of patients with very advanced and terminal diseases such as cancer.

One of those patients with advanced cancer is using an aspect of the Medicinal Music Makers in which patients work with composers and musicians. He is writing a song for his longtime girlfriend, says program founder Valerie Narumi.

VALERIE NARUMI: He wants to create a parody of a piece, like rewrite the lyrics and dedicate that to his girlfriend, who has been with him for his entire cancer journey.

Narumi says this experience has been as rewarding for her as it is for the patient and his girlfriend.

NARUMI: I see them sometimes throughout his two treatments thus far, and there’s times where he’s just really, really tired, but he just becomes really excited doing this project and looking forward to the end goal.

Music and illness can both show us how we are interdependent.

You can find more information about the organization and how to join Medicinal Music Makers on their website, Instagram, and YouTube.