If you stop by the Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building in Rochester, Minnesota, you might catch an impromptu performance of a concert hall pianist. Patients often stop in the lobby and take out their phones to record Genaida Benson playing blissful harmonies in her nursing scrubs on their way home from the facility. It’s just what they need after a long stay in the hospital.
“Unbelievable,” says David Wells as he stands with his wife, Diane, watching Benson play.
“Knowing she works with cancer patients, that’s a lot of heart right there with that lady,” Diane adds.
Benson, or “Piano Nurse” as she’s known in the hospital, started playing music at the age of four. She dabbled in nursing for a bit in college before devoting all her time to her music. In her 20s, she earned a master’s degree in piano performance and was playing for audiences all over the country.
Things took a turn eight years ago when her father was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. He ended up making his way to Mayo Clinic for treatment.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of what my dad went through,” Genaida says while sitting at her piano bench.
She felt inspired by the nurses that took care of her father when he was at his worst. She eventually finished her nursing degree and went to work for Mayo Clinic.
Not long after donning her first pair of scrubs, Benson remembers sitting down to play piano in the facility’s atrium.
“It just gives you hope,” Genaida says. “And I wanted to do that for others.”
Benson remembers passing through the same atrium with her father several years ago as he was recuperating from chemotherapy and surgery. Back then, Mayo Clinic would often bring volunteer pianists to play for the guests.
Now, it’s her turn to play the keys after a long day of working with cancer patients on the third floor.
George Josenhans and his wife, Martha, got to see Benson take on both roles. She helped George prepare for his cancer screenings. Afterward, they got to listen to her music in the atrium.
“I think it brings hope and peace,” Martha says. “This makes you feel better.
You can even buy a copy of her music online.
The Healing Power of Music
Benson will often cue up spiritual songs, which she believes have the power to heal. She will even pray for the patients sitting in the atrium listening to her play, some in wheelchairs, others in hospital gowns.
“Music is healing; physically, spiritually, mentally,” Benson says.
Studies show that music can have profound effects on individuals. Listening can help improve motor function and cognition in stroke patients. It can also reduce symptoms of depression in those suffering from dementia and help patients recovering from surgery experience less pain and heal faster.
According to Harvard Health, it can also help cancer patients. “Listening to music reduces anxiety associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It can also quell nausea and vomiting for patients receiving chemotherapy.”
Sometimes Benson’s father will even stand among the crowd. Eight years later, he is cancer free. But he still gets to see Benson play when he has to come back for a checkup.
“It’s just wonderful,” Verlyn Benson says as his daughter fills the atrium with sound. “That to me is better than Carnegie Hall.”