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Chords for Cancer

Patients, Caregivers, and Medical Professionals Enjoy a ‘Wealth of Spectacular Music’ at Chords for Cancer Concert

The CU Cancer Center sponsored the performance by Colorado Symphony musicians at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

minute read

Written by Mark Harden on April 18, 2024

Music can soothe, sustain, and inspire. There's evidence that it can even heal, as well as provide support through the rigors of therapy.

For people living with cancer, their families and friends, their medical providers, and others, an hour of the string music of Felix Mendelssohn offered an oasis of calm amid their journeys.

The Chords for Cancer event, held April 17 at Bruce Schroffel Auditorium at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, was sponsored by the University Of Colorado Cancer Center, where many of those on hand are being treated.

Eight musicians from the Colorado Symphony, which is celebrating its 100th season, played Mendelssohn’s String Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, for the audience.

Strings to reduce stress and pain

“This is a real treat,” said Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, director of the CU Cancer Center, in introducing the event. “There are so many studies that show that music reduces anxiety, it reduces pain and stress, and it can help our patients heal. And that’s why this event is so fitting.”

He added: “We’re really proud of what we do at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. We usually focus on the basics – preventing cancer, catching cancer early, treating cancer in patients when we find it. But this dimension is also important in caring for our patients, making sure that they're well and their families are well, and taking care of the entire spectrum from start to finish, even after therapy.”

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Dmitri Pogorelov, first violinist with the octet, said it was a “pleasure and honor” to perform for the occasion.

“For all of the medical professionals in the audience, thank you so much for everything that you do. As musicians, the pressures of playing the F sharp in tune in comparison to literally saving lives, which is what you do on a daily basis, puts our pressures in perspective,” he said.

The musical selection, which flowed from soothing passages to vigorous, uplifting themes, was composed when Mendelssohn was only 16, Pogorelov said. It seemed fitting for the occasion, given that it was seen as an advance in chamber music composition when it debuted in the early 1800s. Many of those in attendance at the concert are involved at some level in advances in cancer research and treatment, as medical professionals or as patients.

McPheeMike McPhee, a CU Cancer Center patient and a member of the Colorado Symphony Board of Trustees, attended the Chords for Cancer concert April 17, 2024. Photo by Mark Harden | CU Cancer Center.

Patient perspective

One patient in the audience was Mike McPhee, a longtime Colorado author and journalist who says he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 22 years ago. McPhee also is a member of the Colorado Symphony’s Board of Trustees.

“This is such a great outreach by the symphony to combine medical care and classical music, and to share a wealth of spectacular music,” McPhee says.

McPhee says he’s a patient of oncologist Elizabeth Kessler, MD, a CU Cancer Center member. “I’ve tried other doctors, and they don't have nearly the expertise or the sophistication that the cancer center and CU Anschutz have,” he says. “So I always end up out here for much better care, and I couldn’t be happier, because the quality of care is magnificent.”

Musical benefits

Also on hand was Angela Wibben, who as a board-certified music therapist in the palliative care program at UCH can attest to the beneficial aspects of music from clinical experience.

Research shows us that music, and especially music therapy interventions with a credentialed professional, can help decrease pain and anxiety while also supporting individuals through significant life events by creating positive effect on how we cope, quality of life, and perception of hope,” Wibben says. “This is especially beneficial for people undergoing cancer treatments and therapies.”


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She adds: “Music is important in the context of a serious illness and hospitalization because of its ability to acknowledge that there is more to you, as a whole person, than the medical diagnosis and circumstances that bring you to the hospital.”

Photo at top: Musicians from the Colorado Symphony perform at the Chords for Cancer concert April 17, 2024. Photo by Devon Balent | CU Cancer Center.