On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a dozen or so College students weave
their way to Out of Town News—music and instrument cases in hand.
Twice a week, this band of students sets out to brighten the days of Cambridge and Boston’s elderly and sick.
Music In Hospitals and Nursing Homes Using Entertainment as
Therapy (MIHNUET) is a Harvard student-run music-oriented public
Each weekend these volunteers travel throughout the area,
bringing their gifts of music to local nursing homes, hospitals, senior
centers, and assisted-living facilities.
‘A LIGHT THING ON THE SIDE’
“These are people that are very giving and wanting to make a
difference,” says Sandra L.C. Wong ’06. “They’re interested in giving
back to their community even with their other commitments.”
This “sincere, motivated, and friendly” roster of performers,
one that Wong estimates to be 80 percent pre-medical students,
certainly enjoys no more free-time than the average Harvardian does—but
still manages to find time for its rounds.
Wong has been an integral part of MIHNUET ever since she first
stepped foot on campus four years ago. The group, which she discovered
at a pre-frosh weekend activities fair, has become what she says will
be a highlight of her undergraduate experience.
“I thought it would be a sort of light thing on the side, so
I could try out other public service activities that I wanted to do,”
she says, thinking back to the less certain days many freshmen spend
seeking their niches in their new and often overwhelming surroundings.
In Wong’s case, that spark generated as a prefrosh became a roaring
blaze almost immediately. “After my first performance, I knew this is
what I wanted to do.”
That “light thing on the side” would turn into years of
dedicated service, she says. Wong has enjoyed stints in leadership
positions ranging from site coordinator, to co-chair of vocal
performance, activities, to co-director of the entire organization.
MIHNUET consists of the Crimson Crooners, a choral ensemble,
MIHNUET Ultimate String Ensemble (MUSE), specializing in instrumental
string music, and individual performers that take it upon themselves to
arrange their own group acts.
The MIHNUET program’s mission is centered on music, so like
any member, Wong says she shares a passion for song. However, she also
says she cherishes the other side of the group’s work—post-performance
interaction sessions with the audience. She says these conversations
can prove especially rewarding for audiences who are in poorer states
“No matter what site it was, I could feel that we were making
an impact,” Wong says, referring to the differing needs of the
audiences for whom MIHNUET performs.
In places where the audience could not be as overtly
responsive, “the impact was less immediately obvious, but more so when
we interacted,” Wong adds.
These interactions also provide a chance for the performer to establish connections with an audience member.
“A lot of times, I found myself staying afterwards for up to an
hour chatting,” says Wong, a biochemical sciences concentrator. She
recalls one especially talkative man who took a particular interest in
“He said, ‘Tell me about your research,’” a request not that
different from the many conversations carried on among the MIHNUET
volunteers and their audience, Wong says. She noticed that this man was
a little more persistent than what she was used to. Her conversation
continued until the man had acquired a deep knowledge of her work—“Down
to the exact molecules I was studying,” Wong says.
It was at this time that another resident of the facility
called over to the two. “Hey, have you told this young lady about your
prize?” Little did Wong know that she had been chatting with a Nobel
Laureate in medicine.
MUSIC AS THERAPY
Nearly 10 years ago, Junne Kamihara ’97, now a joint MD and PhD
candidate in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program,
“I had studied violin for a long time before college, and what
I appreciated most about performing was the ability to connect with
other people in a very unique, special way,” Kamihara wrote in an
e-mail. “Music is a very powerful medium for encouraging people to
become less withdrawn, to experience moments of joy and to recall fond
memories from the past.”
Kamihara says that she still keeps in some contact with the
group, remaining on its e-mail list and occasionally attending its
black-tie events, but most of all, she says she is thrilled with its
continuing dedication to its mission. “With each new group of students
it takes on new energy and grows in new and different ways. I feel
quite privileged to have been a part of its founding.”
The MIHNUET contributions to the sites they visit do not go unrecognized by their hosts.
Sue Bowdridge, social programs director at Neville Place, a
Cambridge assisted-living facility, said that MIHNUET has been making
regular visits for about four years.
“One of the interesting things about when they come is that
they’re not music majors, and my residents find that out when they
speak—but they’re so talented,” she says.
Bowdridge points out that the MIHNUET performances provide an
opportunity for her residents to interact with and dispel the
often-negative image of young adults portrayed in the media.
“They don’t just walk out the door,” she says. “They stay and
chat with everybody. It really makes a difference for the residents
Ildiko Szabo, director of resident community life at Youville
House, another Cambridge assisted-living facility, was also well aware
of the students’ efforts.
“The beautiful part about what they do is they’ll have a
series of performances—instruments, maybe vocal, whatever it is that
day; and when they’re done, the beautiful thing is they sit and stay
with the residents and talk to them a little bit,” Szabo says. “The
residents really enjoy it.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Katie Rose Clapham ’08, former MIHNUET vocal co-chair and
co-conductor of the Crimson Crooners, said that her experience with
MIHNUET began with an advertisement seen on campus and a rousing speech
at an introductory meeting.
“They had a woman speak at the meeting who saw what a
difference it made in people’s lives,” Clapham says. “That convinced me
that it was something worthwhile and that it was something I would
She was particularly appreciative of the personal connections made on her trips.
“After the performances, we go around and talk to the audience
members. I saw that one woman was sitting with one of the Crooners,”
Clapham says. “The woman was unable to speak, but she was pressing the
woman’s hand and smiling. You could tell that the music had meant
something to her, even if she couldn’t express that to the Crooners
MIHNUET approaches its 10th year of existence in good stead.
Recent changes in its scheduling and recruiting practices have boosted
membership and retention. The addition of a program, where members sign
up for specific performance dates well in advance, has also cut down on
some past difficulties with keeping site attendance up during
Still, the group faces the occasional logistical difficulty.
“We don’t have a huge transportation budget,” says Vocal
Co-Chair James E. Goldschmidt ’09 of the trips that sometimes are made
solely on foot.
But still, the future looks bright for the organization that
Goldschmidt says has had strong spring recruitment and performances. “I
think we’ll be in good shape for this next semester.”
—Staff writer Nicholas A. Ciani can be reached at email@example.com.