UMD Professor and Student Bring Sing-alongs to Children in Hospital
Photos by Riley Sims Ph.D. '23
When one unfamiliar adult began tuning her ukulele and another began warming up to sing, a 3-year-old girl in a pediatric unit of the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital (UMCH) peeked from under the covers of her hospital bed. As they played “You Are My Sunshine” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” she slowly lowered the blanket. Her respiratory issues kept her from singing with them, but she was soon bouncing her feet along to the songs.
She’s one of many children at the Baltimore hospital who’ve had their often-difficult days brightened by a fun sing-along session with University of Maryland, College Park Assistant Clinical Professor Allison Durbin ’15, Ph.D. ’23 and music education major Paige Peercy ’25. The two began regularly playing music for the children in the hospital in September as an initiative within the newly established Terrapin Community Music School (TCMS).
“We have children who can't leave their room in a hospital, and we’re able to come to them and provide musical companionship and hopefully bring some levity to their day,” said Durbin, director of TCMS, which launched this fall to offer weekly instructional programs for community members of all ages.
Based in the School of Music (SOM), TCMS is supported by Arts for All, the universitywide initiative that aims to increase the reach of the arts across campus and beyond. In May, Peercy also received an M-Cubator grant from SOM, which offers up to $1,000 in funding projects related to music, for her idea to expand the new music school’s offerings into a hospital’s pediatric units.
Peercy thought TCMS’s early childhood program, Hatchling, ought to be expanded to those children who can’t attend the in-person lessons because of medical issues. Her solution was to bring the music lessons right into their hospital rooms.
The pair have visited patients from babies to young school-age kids with acute and chronic illnesses, offering gift bags with egg shakers and rhythm sticks so that the patients are not just watching them perform, but joining in themselves. The performances are interactive rather than by the numbers, with Durbin and Peercy asking questions and letting the children’s answers guide the session. Whether they are choosing the color of the dinosaur in their song or picking ingredients to add to the soup they are singing about, the children can participate in music-making.
“Being in the hospital, a lot of control is taken away from children,” UMCH Child Life Manager Shannon Joslin said. “So, Paige and Allison’s program—maybe in a small way, but it's a valuable way—gives kids an opportunity to exert some control over their environment.”
While visiting patients in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Pediatric Progressive Care Unit, the pair find that each patient has different levels of engagement; not all might be able to sing or tap along to the music, but no one has turned down a music session so far.
The pair has also prepared songs in Spanish to cater to a diverse range of children and families in the hospital.
“I’ve seen family members’ faces light up because they realize it's a song that either they know or that they can understand because it's been spoken in their primary language,” Joslin said.
The pair sings lullabies to the babies in the unit. Even if they are too young to physically engage, the singing allows them to experience something beyond the beeping of medical machinery. The intensive care unit staff enjoys the visits as well, Joslin said.
Caregivers, parents and siblings are invited to participate in the musical sessions, bringing a bit of lightness to their time in the hospital.
“A lot of these kids are so young, they’re not going to remember any of this, but for the caregivers it must be so hard,” Peercy said. “And I think [it’s important] just being able to show up even just for the caregivers, [and] give something that can make their kid a little bit happier.”
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