“Thank you so much for coming out this morning. I don’t know if you see any of the faces that walk by, but every single one lights up when they hear your music. You can see a sense of joy and calm wash over their entire being as soon as they see you. Word spreads and they tell others they must go see you as well. It’s simply beautiful. "Thank you for truly making a difference in the lives of our staff and patients."Thank you for truly making a difference in the lives of our staff and patients.” This excerpt was taken from an email sent from one of the volunteer coordinators at Texas Children’s Hospital and was received by Rose van der Werff, the string ensemble coordinator for the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program at The Shepherd School of Music. Every two weeks Rose and three graduate students reach out with their music to the Houston community. They perform at Texas Children’s Hospital, at retirement homes, and in local schools, all part of an ongoing outreach that is a part of the Preparatory Program’s agenda.
At the Texas Children’s Hospital, as a string quartet, they perform in the foyer where the children wait for appointments, and where the doctors and staff come and go. At one performance, seeing from the sign that the group was from Rice, a parent brought his son down from the ward, still attached to his intravenous drip to listen to the music. He was hoping to come and study at the Shepherd School one day.
At the Holly Hall Retirement Community the group performed the usual classics along with arrangements from the forties and fifties. A thank-you note after one of these performances says, “The residents LOVED having you play. Music is therapeutic at all levels but especially to this population.” and “The residents loved it and are still talking about it.”
Visits to the schools are more interactive and include demonstrating how to hold a bow properly, along with the various sounds of the instruments at the British School, and helping with the school orchestra at Lamar High School. The group also conducts sectional rehearsals, or leads in discussions about music. In addition to the aforementioned outreach activities the graduate students serve as coaches for the eleven string ensemble groups formed with students from the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program. These children’s groups meet for weekly rehearsals during the fall and spring semesters and conclude each semester with a chamber music recital organized by the graduate-student coaches. The children, who participate, range in age from six through eighteen.
Rose van der Werff supervises the coaches and students and keeps this arm of the Preparatory Program running smoothly. The student coaches all are recipients of scholarships from the Brown Foundation.