Music by the Bedside brings joy to students and those they sing for

05/04/2017 6:00 AM |

It was a Friday morning and Lillian Baglivi sat in her room at The Shores at Peconic Landing in Greenport. Sunlight trickled in through her large window, lighting the side of her face. She has a comfortable room, decorated with old photos and household memories from the past.  

Now 89, she has lived at Peconic Landing for eight years, but today was special. While she sat there, she was transported by the powerful voice of a petite girl seated in front of her with a guitar in her arms.

When the singer finished, Ms. Baglivi raised her hand to her face, gently wiped a tear from her eye and smiled.

“Thank you,” she said.

Performers from East End Arts’ Music by the Bedside program encounter such reactions often. Founded in 2015, the program brings East End Arts students and community volunteers into local nursing homes and hospitals to perform for residents and patients. Last year, it received LeadingAge New York’s Innovation of the Year award, given to health care providers that introduce unique programs. Both East End Arts and Peconic Landing were  recognized.

Ms. Baglivi’s daughter Carol Worth, who lives in Mattituck and has worked at Peconic Landing for a decade, was in the room watching as 16-year-old Maddy Seitles of East Moriches serenaded her mother.

“My mom always loved to sing, especially with her sister Madelyn, whom she misses very much,” she said. “To have music in the comfort of her own room was obviously very special for her.”

Ms. Worth said she got very emotional watching her mother sit forward, wide-eyed and totally engaged with Maddy.

“I could see she was very touched by [Maddy’s] voice as she shuddered and took deep breaths during the song,” she said. “Her crying at the end was tears of joy.”

Mother and daughter were not the only ones who left with a good feeling that day. Maddy also felt the connection.

“I just thought it was a beautiful thing to be able to come in and just light up someone’s day,” she said. “It opens up my eyes to how I can impact someone on a personal level.”

Maddy, a student at Westhampton Beach High School, is a natural born singer. She recalls being 2 years old and her mother singing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” while pushing her on the swing.

“One day I just said, ‘My turn’ and I started singing and I have not stopped singing since,” she said.

East End Arts School student Maddy Seitles (right) visits with Lillian Baglivi at Peconic Landing in Greenport Friday after singing a few songs. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

At age 10, Maddy began taking singing lessons at East End Arts School in Riverhead to improve her sight-reading skills. She no longer takes those lessons, but she returns every year to participate in its Music Masters program. About a year ago, East End Arts educational director Diane Giardi approached her about being a part of Music by the Bedside.

Program participants visit Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead the first Friday of every month and go to Peconic Landing the last Friday of the month.

Maddy, who is accustomed to singing on a stage and in front of large crowds, said this is a more intimate experience for her. She goes into the person’s room and has a one-on-one session with them, looking them straight in the eyes as she sings.

Ms. Giardi said the personal connection that’s felt by both the singer and the listener is what makes the program so special.

“Here they are very close to the person and every emotion they feel is very visible,” she said.

Ms. Giardi is particularly proud to see this program in action because the original idea came from her own experience. While music is played for nursing home residents and hospital patients at many other places, she said, it was her idea to implement it at East End Arts.

She recalled a time in 1989 when her husband was sick and hospitalized with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. People could only enter his room with masks on. It was Valentine’s Day and she brought in a Peruvian flutist to play songs like “My Funny Valentine” over the intercom for him to hear.

“It was such a beautiful experience,” she said. “I thought, people that are isolated or people that are dying need music and it just affects them so wonderfully and in a positive way.”

Ms. Seitles, 16, sings at Peconic Landing in Greenport Friday. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Although she knew how that music would affect the residents they visited, she was surprised to see how strongly it also affected the performers themselves. She said a lot of them have talked about carrying this on in the future and even looking into music therapy as a potential career.

While Maddy is still young, she said it is something she has recently considered.

“I like to help people and I also like to sing. So mixing those two seems like the perfect kind of thing to do,” she said, adding that she thinks music in all forms is moving for people. She said being able to come into a facility like Peconic Landing and provide something that’s different from a person’s daily routine is special and a good change for the resident.

Another East End Arts and Westhampton Beach student, 17-year-old Emily Blumenthal, said she’s also been impacted by the program.

“I don’t feel like I really understood music before [doing this],” Emily said.

Much like Maddy, Emily has been singing from the time she could talk. She also participates in EEA’s Music Masters program and performed with Music by the Bedside for the first time in February.

She said the first woman she sang for had lost the ability to speak and could communicate only with her eyes. As Emily began to sing one of her own original songs, the woman began to cry.

“I just felt that connection with her and it was really crazy,” she said. “I was absolutely speechless at the moment and I was ready to start crying, but I powered through and kept on singing and it was just a really beautiful moment.”

Ms. Seitles sings for Dorothy Munafo and her daughter-in-law Jodi Munafo Friday morning. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Emily has been a performer her whole life, but said she now understands how powerful music can be.

“Whenever you perform a song, you’re definitely baring your soul to someone else,” she said.  “That’s why we’re able to get such a great connection with patients because they’re able to connect with us the same way that we’re connecting with them.”

Greg Garrett, executive vice president of Peconic Landing, called the program a “win-win” for both organizations.

Mr. Garrett said the music helps residents with cognitive impairments or those toward the end of life in particular, by bringing them back to times of peace and joy.

“We’ve had such success fulfilling both our missions and serving both our residents with this program,” he said, adding that the facility implements a number of music programs, so when this one began he knew it would be successful — but not necessarily to this extent.

“It’s been a tremendous experience for our members, for their families, but the other thing that I certainly did not anticipate is the effect that it’s had on the volunteers and the students,” Mr. Garrett said.

As for the singers themselves, they said now that they have had this experience, they do not plan to stop anytime soon. Emily and Maddy both said this has changed them as musicians and as people and they want to continue providing this service in the future.

“Anyone who has any sort of musical ability can go and help heal other people, which I think is incredible,” Emily said. “It’s amazing that we can all use our talents for bettering others.”

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