Some say laughter is the best medicine. Thoai Vu, founder of Heeling in Harmony, might disagree.
Vu, now a junior at UNC, founded Heeling in Harmony three years ago to play music for people in local nursing homes and hospitals.
Vu said he was inspired to start Heeling in Harmony after playing his violin for his grandma, who has early-onset dementia, one day.
“All the jitters just stopped, and she was just focused directly on me the entire time I was playing,” Vu said. “It was one of the first times I realized how strong of an impact music has on people.”
Heeling in Harmony now has 30 members at UNC and has spread to both UNC’s School of Medicine and Virginia Commonwealth University. Vu said the organization may also expand to the University of Texas at Austin or Google’s headquarters in Austin soon.
The group plays three times per month on Saturdays and brings several performers to each of its events, which typically last 45 minutes.
Vu said he welcomes any and all musicians to join, as long as they maintain respect for audiences that may be uncomfortable with loud noises or overly abrasive music.
“We want to be able to soothe them and calm them and allow them to have this experience that they may not be able to nowadays,” Vu said.
Sydney Thai, who majors in biology and music, has performed with Heeling in Harmony for two years.
Thai said she was drawn to the group because she formed an a cappella group in high school with a similar mission. Thai now plays piano for Heeling in Harmony.
“We performed in retirement homes, nursing homes,” Thai said. “That’s why I joined, continuing that streak and also getting people involved with music.”
Both Thai and Vu said that performing for the sick and homebound can be a rewarding experience and that people often thank them profusely after performances.
“You can see in their faces," Thai said. "Their day is made."
She said she thinks musical therapy is an understudied topic.
"A lot of neurology-type research has found increasingly that music has an effect on your general, overall health and happiness,” Thai said.
Ayman Bejjani has performed with Heeling in Harmony for two years and now serves as the club’s vice president.
Bejjani said that he, like Thai, is interested in the healing properties of music.
“I thought it was just an awesome way to combine both of my interests, medicine and music, and to know that actually something amazing comes out of it when you combine them,” Bejjani said.
Thai said playing for Heeling in Harmony can be a more intimate experience than playing music in other settings. She contrasted it with playing on stage for a larger audience.
“Yes, you’re performing and you’re giving your heart and soul out, but it’s not quite the same as having a one on one with a resident,” Thai said.
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