I am so lucky to have this piece written about me by Robin Rice in her Spotlight on the ChangeMakers feature. Her web site is www.bewhoyouare.com and she has lots of information about her work. You can subscribe to her Be Who You Are e-zine. Her interview with me follows:
Robin: You’ve been really creative in getting your music to the people who really need it. Tell me about how that came about and how you are currently meeting the need.
Cathy: Even back when I was playing in bars and restaurants, I felt a sense of responsibility; I noticed that music could really make a difference in how people felt. But I never expected to end up playing in a hospital setting. I’ve always been the kind of person who faints when they prick your finger to draw your blood!
When I heard about the Arts in Medicine program here at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida, I thought it was great and kept telling other people about it. Meanwhile the artists in the program kept saying, “YOU come play and be one of us.”
Finally I did, starting with putting together an evening concert series for children on the pediatric oncology unit. Then I wrote a proposal to get a grand piano in the lobby and started bringing in piano players. Now we have piano music every day, several concerts a week in settings that include chemo/infusion centers and dialysis units, and I train volunteers and students who shadow me when I do music at the bedside. I play at both Shands hospitals in Gainesville, travel to hospitals and hospices around the country, and also play for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia as part of a program I’m involved in called Arts & Aging.
Robin: I can only imagine how appreciative the patients are for this. But I also wonder…how has it affected the organizations themselves? How does it affect, say, the doctors, or administrators?
Cathy: Well, interestingly, our program was actually started by a doctor (John Graham-Pole) who’s also a poet, and a nurse (Mary Rockwood Lane) who’s also an artist. So, we did have some good champions right away.
Initially, though, we kind of came in under the radar with just a couple of local artists working on specific projects. Now that we’ve been doing this for fifteen years, we are an actual department with an office, a phone line, a program coordinator, etc. We get referrals from doctors and social workers; cheers and requests from the nurses when we enter a unit; and maintenance, security and nursing staff who often join us in singing and dancing! You can find out more at UF Health/Shands Arts in Medicine.
Robin: What would you say to others wanting to take their art form and create a place for it? What obstacles have you had to overcome, and where did you find strength?
Cathy: I think that initially you decide what your priorities are. What do you do that brings you the most joy, and also brings joy to others? At first it seems like it’s a choice between having the freedom to do what you care about, or making money at a real job. I always felt like freedom was more important to me than money–even though, of course, they are often closely related. But it seems like the more you get in touch with really focusing on what you’re meant to do, what your talents and gifts are and how best to share them, it becomes more like that old adage, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
It’s kind of a Unity thing; I play at Unity churches and do a lot of New Thought music, and the Unity philosophy of positive affirmation and stepping forward in faith has certainly helped me pursue my path. Their attitude of gratitude is another aspect of Unity that I have found to be very powerful. It’s that the more we remember to be grateful for what we already have, the more good seems to come our way. I find it extraordinarily powerful just to say, chant or sing my gratitude every day.
Robin: Does making your living while “doing your art” ever get tricky?
Cathy: You have to deal with the business aspects of it without losing your passion for it. That’s a delicate balance. Something someone said that really helped me recently was this:
“Remember, EVERY encounter is an opportunity to touch someone or change their life in a meaningful way.” So I try to bring that into my art and keep that in mind whenever I’m singing or playing, whatever the situation.