In chaotic emergency rooms and intensive care units around New York City, coronavirus patients struggle to survive in isolation, with masked doctors and nurses keeping their distance and family visits barred. Alarms, monitors and overhead announcements blare incessantly.
But at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, the music of Bach, Brahms and even the Beatles has begun wafting through patient rooms, played by accomplished performers — recently out-of-work chamber music players; winners of international competitions and prizes; teachers at prestigious music schools.
They perform from California, Kentucky, Maine, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York, where they are sheltered in place. The music plays through an iPhone or iPad placed at the bedside of patients who indicated they wanted to hear a performance, using FaceTime’s audio-only feature to protect their privacy.
“I’m hoping to offer a brief moment of comfort or distraction or beauty,” said Michelle Ross, a violinist in Manhattan who has performed for the patients.
At the Allen Hospital, which is at the northern tip of Manhattan and serves a community that is largely low income and minority, the toll of coronavirus cases has been particularly devastating. Last week, a top emergency room physician at Allen died by suicide, putting a spotlight on the struggles at the small hospital.
At times, the 200-bed hospital has had as many as 170 coronavirus patients; by early April, there were 59 patient deaths, The New York Times has reported.
It was around that time that the concert idea blossomed. Dr. Rachel Easterwood, who works the night shift in the I.C.U., had despaired at how little could be done for some patients. “I just felt desperate actually, and helpless,” she said. “People are dying left and right.”
One evening off, she listened to a cellist friend in California play Bach for her over FaceTime. Dr. Easterwood, 35, who played clarinet professionally before going to medical school, found the music comforting.
“Man, I wish we could do that in the hospital,” she told her friend, as he recalled the conversation. At that moment, the idea about playing for patients clicked.