Benjamin Baker knows how tough it can be to spend the holidays in the hospital. He works as a nurse in the neuroscience and stroke unit at Prisma Health in Greenville, South Carolina but he does more than just take care of his patients. Like many nurses, he was forced to work on Christmas Day, but he didn’t let that stop him from spreading some holiday cheer.
He recently arrived early for his shift to fill the halls with music.
“The patients’ families were coming in the hallway, saying ‘is that a real violin?’” Baker said. “Because they knew they heard the music, but they didn’t know if it was real or not. So, I just walked and played for them. The nurses loved it. The patients’ families loved it. The patients loved it. Everyone just loved the music.”
Baker is a classically trained musician who’s been playing the violin since he was four. He first fell in love with the instrument after watching a concert performance on television.
“It’s just about serving and taking my gift that God has given me,” he said. “[Playing] for them means a lot to me.”
He has played music throughout his career in medicine, performing for nursing homes, veterans, and hospitals.
“I always feel like music is like medicine,” he said. “Sometimes, certain songs will take people back to certain days. I’ve played for certain people, and I would play certain songs. And they would be like, ‘I remember when I was this age, and I heard this song for the first time’ and it brings back memories–great memories. So, I feel like music is medicine.”
The medicinal properties of music are well documented. Music can be used to relieve stress, pain, and improve immune function. It has been found to be more effective at relieving anxiety in patients ahead of surgery than prescription medications.
It can also help individuals cope with past trauma by reminding them of who they were before they were in the hospital.
“We’ve found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a healthcare role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” says Daniel J. Levitin, psychologist, and author of the book “This is Your Brain on Music.”
Researchers found that listening to and playing music increases the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
For Baker, playing music is just another way of healing his patients. “Music is so soothing. That’s why I feel like it is definitely a gift, to be able to take care of people and provide music to them and take care of them in every aspect,” he said.
He doesn’t play his violin for money. He does it solely for the joy of seeing smiles on his patients’ faces.
“You can’t put it into words. Money wouldn’t make up for the feeling that they feel – that you see them feeling. They’re swaying, and they’re listening, and they’re humming the lyrics,” he said. “If I could do it every day, I would.”