Healing Arts

An artist and a musician help children in the hospital feel more like themselves.

Formal music therapy programs for adults in the hospital have been shown to lower their blood pressure, relieve pain and reduce stress. At Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, musician-in-residence Wendy Lanxner and artist-in-residence Aubrey Bodt take an informal approach designed to normalize the hospital experience for the child, and they achieve therapeutic effects as well. Both are part of a robust healing arts program that is offered by the Child Life department and began at the Children’s Center in 2012.

On Fridays, Lanxner can be seen and heard wheeling her music cart — complete with a drum set, guitar, piano and two waterproof ukuleles — up and down the halls of the hospital. She travels to multiple units with her entourage of instruments to play music and sing with patients. She offers color-coded sheet music but also hopes to teach patients and their families how to read notation.

“If all goes well, hopefully they’ll learn something too,” she says.

They do. She recalls recently finding a teenager alone in her room and offering her a private ukulele lesson.

“I taught her three chords, used in the song ‘Just the Way You Are,’” says Lanxner. “She knew the song and was able to play the chords and strum with direction, using a visual aid of a large-font simple lead sheet with chord diagrams.”

Whether it is singing acappella or learning a few chords on the ukulele, her goals are to give patients and families a distraction, a reason to be active, and most importantly, an opportunity to have some fun. Her repertoire includes classics such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and popular songs like “Old Town Road.”

“Luckily, a lot of pop songs are based on the same four repeating chord patterns,” she adds.

Patients of all ages seem to benefit from Lanxner’s tunes. She caught the attention of a crying 6-month-old when she began to strum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the guitar in the middle of a hallway. She walked the family back to their room where she continued to play until the girl stopped crying.

“I learned that the father played guitar at home, so it was a familiar sound,” Lanxner says.

Similarly, artist-in-residence Aubrey Bodt uses art to reach patients in ways that typical therapy doesn’t. Her goal? Help children feel more human during their hospital stay.

A typical day for Bodt starts with referrals from child life specialists — a list of patients they believe could benefit from her practice. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays, she travels across the Children’s Center, creating watercolor valentines or “thankful” mobiles to hang from the ceilings of patient rooms. When she first meets patients, she asks what types of activities they enjoy at home. The patient gets to choose the art — there is a different project in each room. Bodt also allows the patient to drive the interaction. She’s just there to facilitate.

“The main goal is to make sure that they have a choice in what they do,” Bodt says. “I might be the only person they get to say ‘no’ to today.”

Having experienced the value of the healing arts program, both Lanxner and Bodt would like to see it expand and represent a broad range of artists-in-residence.

“It has so much potential to heal and grow,” she says. “We all have different roles to meet and serve.”

The healing arts program exists thanks to the generosity of donors. For more information on how you can support child life services at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, please email [email protected].