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Guest Blog: Student-Led Musical Creativity Encourages Hospital Staff

Student-Led Musical Creativity Provides Pandemic Encouragement for Hospital Staff
Amber Joy Weber, Deputy Director, San Diego Youth Symphony

When I reflect on the past year, my thoughts center on healthcare staff - particularly my husband, Mark Weber. As a hospital chaplain during a pandemic, he and his team have been key to supporting not just patients and families, but also their hospital colleagues - from ICU nurses to respiratory therapists to environmental services - who have experienced waves of frustration, fear, and grief. My husband launched multiple grassroots campaigns, resulting in collecting over 1,000 cell phone chargers for patients, over 600 handmade scrub caps for hospital staff, and even pay-it-forward “donations” for staff to get coffee. It is his responsibility and his nature to provide hope to others, both tangible and emotional, and I have found that it has been mine to encourage him.

Having some understanding of the magnitude of challenges that Mark and his colleagues have faced this past year, I am moved whenever I see expressions of gratitude to healthcare workers. My absolute favorite, though, has come from the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYS), where I have worked for six years.

When I watched the SDYS ensembles’ performance videos in the Fall, I was impressed. In particular, the work of conductor Anthony Kim’s ensembles, Concert Orchestra and Philharmonia Blue, stood out because of their creative messages of gratitude to front-line workers. In the Concert Orchestra video, students dressed up as the COVID-19 virus and tried to spread it by touching people in their household. Their family members fought back against the virus with disinfectants and hand sanitizer. In both ensemble videos, students held hand-made thank-you signs to hospital workers and other front-line staff, with their recorded ensemble music providing the soundtrack to their video.
Chaplain Mark Weber and a nurse.I showed the videos to my husband, Mark Weber (pictured left with a nurse), and asked if hospital staff would be interested in seeing them. “They need all the encouragement they can get,” he replied. As the Coordinator of Spiritual Care at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, Mark said that he could add them to the Spiritual Care Channel. The channel is available on every TV in the hospital, including in all break rooms and patient rooms. SDYS made the necessary edits, such as removing students’ names, and Mark added the videos to the channel’s loop, all before Christmas. The loop is not a neat 30 or 60 minutes, so there isn’t a particular time each day when someone can tune in to see the SDYS videos. Despite that, Mark noticed them playing on multiple occasions and captured some photos.
I visited Concert Orchestra and Philharmonia Blue’s Zoom rehearsals after the holidays to share with students that their videos were playing at a local hospital, bringing joy to hundreds of people every day. I screen-shared the photos from Mark (some of which are shared in this blog) and thanked the students for their creativity, love of music, and sincere gratitude toward front-line workers.
Conductor Anthony Kim soon followed up with a thank-you note of his own. He wrote, “After each of your visits, the students and I talked about the importance of music in our society and what an important performance that was for us, in ways we didn't comprehend previously. We all agreed that our performance through the hospital TV screens may be the most important performance we have had thus far, surpassing any of our Copley Symphony Hall concerts. We are honored to represent SDYS, but even more grateful to reach out to those who are facing the impossible.”
I found that, for as appreciative as I was to the students, they were just as grateful for the opportunity to encourage hospital workers. In fact, they are currently working on a sequel to their videos, with the hope that they can be aired at the hospital as well. At SDYS we may not be able to perform music as we used to, but we are still able to share our love of music and lift spirits through it.  Kudos to our country’s frontline workers and to the musicians who inspire them.


Photos courtesy of Mark and Amber Weber and the San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory.

About the Author: Amber Joy Weber has dedicated her career to making a quality education accessible to students. She became SDYS’ Deputy Director in January 2015. Amber’s responsibilities lie in program implementation, human resources, financial and legal management, operations, and administration. She came to SDYS after working as Chief Service Officer in the Office of Mayor Cheryl Cox in Chula Vista, CA, where she led community campaigns such as graduation coach and grade-level reading. Before moving to California, Amber managed the education department of Spivey Hall, a recital and chamber music hall near Atlanta, GA, for five years. There she achieved record annual attendance at Young People’s Concerts, established multiple new programs, and served as Acting Business Manager in addition to her education role for a full year. Previously, Amber interned in the education department of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC and taught public school in Baltimore, MD as a Teach For America corps member. Amber holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Johns Hopkins University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. She enjoys playing the piano at home, working on projects with her husband Mark, and snuggling with their three cats.

About our Guest Blog Series: Our membership network is full of incredible people with a wealth of life experiences, talents, and diverse perspectives and backgrounds. We want to share their insights, points of view, and wisdom with all of you, as well as raise the voices of individuals who are making a difference for the classical music field. Our guest blog series features people from different communities throughout California and the western region, from different sizes and types of classical music organizations, and with different jobs and responsibilities. They share what they have learned, express their opinions about the sector, and ask challenging questions that will help us shift our thinking and be better advocates for this art form that we all love.

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