When Music is the Best Medicine

For a sick child confined to a hospital, listening to music often brings a welcome sense of comfort and calm. But research shows that if the child participates in making the music, it can actually encourage healing.

This capacity to heal inspired the founding of the Jared Kurtin Music Therapy Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. Launched more than a decade ago, with early support from the Perloff Family Foundation, the program was the first established pediatric music therapy program in the Bay Area and continues to be an integral part of the hospitals’ treatment plan.

Across the Bay, a new gift has established the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program to bring the same healing powers of music to patient rooms at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

“Kids put up walls when they’re in pain and when they’re in the hospital,” says music therapist Oliver Jacobson, who works with young patients on our San Francisco campus. “But there’s a moment in our session when those walls come down, and I get to see them experience joy and happiness.”

That joy is contagious. Jeff Peterson, president of the foundation, experienced it firsthand several years ago while visiting the hospital and watching Oliver at work.

“The music brought pure joy to the little ones,” Jeff says. “My son, Kort, was with me that day, and after we left, he remarked on how happy I was. That’s when I knew I had to get involved.”

The Peterson family has been a staunch supporter of UCSF since 2003, funding research into cancer and pediatric diabetes, but Jeff says the music therapy program holds a special place in his heart.

Now, patients on both hospital campuses can benefit from the healing properties of music therapy. In a hospital setting, music has a greater purpose than simply entertainment; it helps achieve goals ranging from bringing family members together to improving patients’ speech and mobility.

The Oakland music therapy program is named in memory of Jared Kurtin, a former patient and pianist who passed away in 2005. Jared’s love of music and generous spirit inspired his family to establish the program. Ongoing support is also provided by Another Planet Entertainment, the Perloff Family Foundation, and Salesforce, among others.