Shepherd School student shares her love of music with residents of hospitals and nursing homes.

Elderly patients at hospitals and retirement homes have been hit particularly hard by the effects of this global pandemic as they are among the most at-risk population. COVID-19 has also furthered the burden by isolating them from loved ones as social distancing has greatly limited visits from family members and friends. Suite Melody Care, a program dedicated to bringing live music to groups of senior citizens, switched to creating virtual, prerecorded performances as a means of spreading joy during these times.

Leslie Ashworth  /  Photo by Alice Hong Photography

Leslie Ashworth ’21, a violinist and graduate student at the Shepherd School of Music, founded Suite Melody Care seven years ago as a high schooler in Ontario, Canada.

“I was playing at the local hospitals. Originally, it was going to be background music while they did arts and crafts, but then the patients wanted to just listen to the music and not do crafts,” Ashworth said. “That gave me the idea to start the volunteer program Suite Melody Care.”

The program allows young musicians to volunteer to perform at hospitals and long-term care facilities. According to their website, after its founding in Southern Ontario, the program expanded in 2019 to also include chapters in Iowa and Houston. Ashworth said that prior to COVID-19, the program typically facilitated more than 100 live performances annually.

Unable to visit and perform at hospitals or retirement homes due to the spread of COVID-19, Ashworth decided to continue sharing her love of music through videos that feature her playing the violin or piano, along with other recordings of different musicians.

Each complete virtual performance is around 30 minutes long and features clips she received via email from other musicians interested in participating in the project. Normally, the program relies on high school-age musicians to volunteer, but Ashworth said she has largely removed age and other requirements for the virtual performances.

“I’ve opened it up to all ages and all different levels of musicianship,” Ashworth said. “I try to select a variety of different genres, styles and performers’ ages. The next performance is going to be exciting because I actually have a few dancers involved.”

As of mid-May, there are three videos available to watch on the program’s YouTube channel. Ashworth said the performances are shared through social media, including official Suite Melody Care accounts. They have also gotten the word out to care facilities through direct contact.

“Because we’ve been giving performances for more than seven years in retirement homes and hospitals, we have a number of contacts and have been sending the performances directly to those venues,” Ashworth said. “It’s been really wonderful to hear from them how much the music is bringing smiles to faces.”

“Tiny Acts of Kindness,” a project from Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, features stories about Rice Owls responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in kind, creative and effective ways. Read the Rice Magazine series here.