Before Michael Ray took the stage at The Underground in Chicago on Thursday night (Nov. 8), he spent the day at another gig on the north side of the city.
As part of the official launch of Chicago’s Musicians on Call program, Ray visited with the patients, residents and staff at Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS). Musicians On Call first piloted the Bedside Performance Program at CMSS and at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in early 2018, and already they’ve brought musicians in to perform for more than 1,100 people.
After Ray’s visit at CMSS, when I had a chance to ask him about it, he told me that it was easy for him to connect with the patients because he feels very much at home with the older generation.
“I grew up in my grandfather’s band — The Country Cousins — and we played about once a week at an assisted living home. So I grew up playing traditional country music in that kind of atmosphere. I’ve always had such a soft spot in my heart for the elderly,” Ray told me. “Like even on my birthdays in high school, my celebrations would be just a couple of friends my age and then everyone else was in their 70s.” He says he has a few go-to songs for this crowd, but he also takes requests if there are any country songs from their era that they might want to hear.
Ray fell in love with the stories the Chicago patients told him, he said, and he knows that no matter how old you are, you can always learn from those who have been on a path before you. “They want to tell you their stories and share what they lived. And when you’re singing a song to somebody, and you see pictures up on the wall, you know that they had a whole full life before they got where they are now,” he said. “So for three or four minutes, they’re back to being the people in those pictures.
“If it is one of their last days, I hope they can feel young again for just a few minutes.”
Ray’s set later that night for the crowd of volunteer guides, volunteer musicians, community supporters, music lovers and healthcare leaders, was packed with his own hits like “Think A Little Less,” “Kiss You in the Morning” and “One That Got Away,” plus some cover songs like Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” from 1995.
In a press release, Musicians On Call president Pete Griffin called Chicago a music hub and a city that has embraced the program from day one. “We are thrilled to be bringing the healing power of music to Chicago and are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate our new programs with our community supporters and volunteers who have already given so much of their time to bring live music into local healthcare facilities,” Griffin said. “As our programs grow we look forward to sharing the talents of local musicians with thousands more patients, families and caregivers.”
Music has a direct effect on people and can improve blood pressure, manage stress, alleviate pain and improve pain tolerance, express feelings, enhance memory and access positive memories, improve mindset/emotional outlook, promote physical rehabilitation, and reduce the length of a hospital stay. And since Musicians on Call was first established in 1999, the volunteer musicians have performed for more than 675,000 individuals.