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What does music have to do with healing? A Lebanese Doctor, Italian Pianist, & International Philanthropists weigh in

The medical, scientific, and business communities haven’t always invested in music's healing power with as much confidence as they do in 2020.

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“We are fighting disease with music,” said Hala Dahdah Abou Jaber, President of the Cancer Support Fund at American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC). 

The international medical, musical, nonprofit, and business communities converged at AUBMC, one of the leading healthcare centers in the Middle East, to demonstrate music’s healing power through words and live performance. The event brought Lebanon’s acclaimed Al Bustan International Festival directly to the patients whose medical treatments might otherwise keep them from its benefits, with a specially painted piano from the Sing for Hope HandaHarmony program traveling all the way from NYC to take centerstage. In the front row, AUBMC cancer patients received chemotherapy treatment while they listened to some of Beethoven’s greatest works. 

“The idea that music has healing power goes back to ancient times,” said Dr. Ali Taher to the crowd gathered in the AUBMC lobby.

Many of us recognize that music helps us feel better when we aren’t feeling our best, whether emotionally or physically. As Dr. Taher acknowledges, that is a long-held belief. But the medical, scientific, and business communities haven’t always shared it with as much confidence as they do in 2020. 

“I strongly believe that active music engagement allows all of the patients to reconnect with the healthy parts of themselves, even in the face of their debilitating condition,” said Dr. Taher, Professor of Medical Oncology and Director of the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute at AUBMC. 

AUBMC and Cancer Support Fund leaders are adamant that the role of music in healthcare does—and should—continue after the conclusion of special events like the Al Bustan Festival performance. “This HandaHarmony Sing for Hope Piano has become the Medical Center’s life,” said Abou Jaber. “The whole atmosphere within the hospital has turned a bit more magical, a bit less dramatic. Notes of hope, played over and over, with a power to heal.” 

Sing for Hope and the AUBMC’s shared investment in the healing power of the arts is supported by a range of recent research, including a Taiwan-based study showing that music eases the pain and fatigue of breast cancer patients and Boston-based study on reducing teen cancer patients’ anxiety and pain through music therapy.

Dr. Haruhisa Handa, Chairman of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC) and Global Patron of Sing for Hope, agrees that the arts are fundamentally transformative. He has contributed millions to furthering ongoing international initiatives that expand arts access for disenfranchised populations. Dr. Handa states, “I believe that music and the arts have the power to transform human hearts and minds, to draw us inward and upward to make the world around us a better place.” IFAC programs include the global initiative Sing for Hope HandaHarmony, which produced the custom instrument by Billy The Artist that is now permanently installed at AUBMC, and Opera Australia’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbor.  

Italian pianist Gloria Campaner, who traveled to Beirut to play for the patients at AUBMC, in conjunction with her performances at this year’s Al Bustan Festival, could easily stick to playing the world’s premiere stages. But Campaner, a human rights activist, finds that there are many nontraditional “stages” equally deserving of her time—like the American University of Beirut Medical Center. Campaner told Upscale Living Magazine in 2019, “Whether I’m performing for hundreds of people or only a handful, I believe in the music and that whoever hears it has the right to take it in at its best level.” Following her performance on the HandaHarmony Sing for Hope Piano at AUBMC, Campaner shared on social media that she had “no words but THANKS ❤️.”

Gloria Campaner plays the HandaHarmony Sing for Hope Piano by Billy the Artist
Group pictured includes Hala Dahdah Abou Jaber, Cancer Support Fund President & Co-Founder; Dr. Ali Taher, Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute Director & Cancer Support Fund Co-Founder; Gloria Campaner, pianist; Laura Lahoud, Al Bustan Festival Executive Vice President


Sing for Hope’s global work with facilities like AUBMC is funded by Sing for Hope’s Founders’ Circle: The International Foundation for Arts and Culture (Dr. Haruhisa Handa, Chairman, Sing for Hope Global Patron), The Arnhold Foundation in loving memory of Sissy and Henry Arnhold, The Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Anna-Maria & Stephen Kellen Foundation, and Ann Ziff. Learn more at singforhope.org.


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