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‘Citizen Artists’ Soothe Injured And Staff At Boston Medical Center

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Ashley Ng (CFA '13) performs at Boston Medical Center. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Boston University student Ashley Ng (College of Fine Arts ’13) performs at Boston Medical Center. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Boston Medical Center has been an epicenter of treatment since the Marathon bombing. Surgeons and nurses there have treated 23 victims. Most have been discharged. But dozens of hospital staff who’ve been working non-stop are still on duty.

On Friday, students from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts went to BMC to bring them relief through music. In fact, this group of “citizen artists” has been doing this since the tragedy struck.

The lobby at the Boston Medical Center is a much different place on this day than it was a week ago. A light but steady flow of people — some dressed in hospital garb, others in street clothes — walk by a duo playing violin and piano in the atrium.

Violniist Hyeryun Cha, CFA '13, performs with pianist Raquel Gorgojo, a graduate student at CFA. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Violniist Hyeryun Cha (CFA ’13) performs with pianist Raquel Gorgojo, a graduate student at CFA, in the atrium of BMC. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Pianist Racquel Gorgojo is a graduate student at BU’s College of Fine Arts.

“I’m here just as a helper, or as a tool,” she said humbly, adding one more analogy: “an instrument of healing for others.”

That’s how Gorgojo defines her role as a “citizen artist.”

Since last October, BU students have been bringing poetry and music to patients and staff at BMC, the university’s teaching hospital. But last week classical pianist Moises Fernandez Via upped the number of in-hospital performances dramatically in response to the bombing. Their most intense work has been happening on the 7th floor.

Fernandez Via, head of BU’s Arts Outreach Initiative, rode with me in the elevator up to BMC’s surgical unit. He described what it was like last week.

“The whole unit was crowded,” the musician recalled. “We brought six concerts every day in three different spaces at the institution. I left every day with the conviction that this was absolutely a place for music — and that’s where the art should be: where life is and where people are struggling and where people are having lots of questions and not really any answers.”

Ashley Ng (CFA' 13) and Moises Fernandez Via. Fernandez Via is the project curator for the Arts Outreach Initiative, a partnership between BU's College of Fine Arts and the Medical Campus. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Violinist Ashley Ng (CFA’ 13) and Moises Fernandez Via. Fernandez Via is the project curator for the Arts Outreach Initiative, a partnership between BU’s College of Fine Arts and the Medical Campus. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

“The past two weeks have been extremely emotional,” Marilyn Joyce admitted. She oversees a staff of 80 as the nurse manager for BMC’s surgical services.

“We’ve worked long hours,” she said, “but also there’s a certain spirituality to it. Working with people who are so fragile at the time, and trying to help them get over the suffering that they have.”

Patients declined to be interviewed for this story, but Joyce said the live performances that filled the 7th floor corridors distracted and comforted the injured, their families — and her staff.

“It sort of sent a calmness around the unit that was very much appreciated,” she reflected.

And the music was doing that on Friday afternoon, too. Joyce said she’d been working for 12 days straight. The last marathon blast victim left the floor on Thursday.

“At one point, we had 12 people that were involved in that on the floor,” she said. “The staff did amazing in providing empathy and support to everyone.”

Ashley Ng (CFA '13) performs at Boston Medical Center. Nurses enjoy her music. Marilyn Joyce (far right) is the nurse manager. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Ashley Ng (CFA ’13) performs at BMC while nurse Evantz Elisma (center) and nurse manager Marilyn Joyce (right) enjoy the music. Andrea Shea/WBUR)

As for what it was like to actually be in the surgical unit with so many Bostonians who’d been hurt by the explosions, Joyce said, “You’re on adrenaline. Absolutely, everyone is. It wasn’t unusual to have a nurse work with a family for a significant amount of time with the room not only providing physical care but emotional care, and then to come out and be emotional and cry, take a few minutes, and then go back to the next patient.”

She also said it’s been a heartbreaking week for the staff because it all felt so close to home.

“A lot of the nurses identified with the patients,” Joyce explained, “Either they were their age, or could be their sister or could be their mother. There was a lot of identification with all the injuries that we had.”

The music definitely helped, Joyce said, adding that staff has been requesting even more live performances. But she also made it clear that the VIP audience has been the injured. BU Arts Outreach Initiative head Fernadez Via agreed.

“We were very much privileged to have the opportunity to firsthand be here playing while some people are doing their first steps with one leg, and learning how to cope with the situation,” he said. “And I think it’s a privilege to say that some of these patients did that not with an empty silence but with the rhythm and the melody or the harmony of a Bach Suite.”