The College of New Jersey’s School of the Arts and Communication has recently partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to expand upon the hospital’s existing Holistic Arts programs by designing innovative online music therapy experiences for cancer patients.
This fall, nine TCNJ students are taking a course entitled “User-Centered Musical Design,” offered jointly by the Departments of Music and Interactive Multimedia. Alongside Associate Professor Teresa Nakra, they are working together to design an app for musical exploration that cancer patients can use while taking chemotherapy infusions.
“TCNJ students have a great capacity for creativity and innovation, and I see my role as helping them to unlock their own potential. With all of the disruption and suffering that Covid-19 has caused, it has also provided us with a real-world design challenge: how to provide high-quality, engaging, online experiences for patients going through a real health emergency. I hope that my students will come away from this experience with a new appreciation for the positive impacts that they can make in another person’s life,” explained Nakra, who also serves as the coordinator for TCNJ’s interdisciplinary minor in music technology. “I also hope that the patients will derive hope and a real benefit from our students’ interventions. I’d like to continue to work on this project and promote TCNJ’s mission to empower our students to sustain and enhance their local community. The new music technology minor at TCNJ is one mechanism now available to help us realize that mission.”
“The arts and sciences are often seen as two contrasting disciplines. There has, however, been an increasing awareness of the ‘art of medicine’ and a realization that health is influenced by a wide range of factors, many of which fall outside the conventional boundaries of medical science. I am thrilled RWJUH Hamilton is collaborating with The College of New Jersey and their students to further explore the benefits of music on healing for our cancer patients. This is truly a unique opportunity to learn how music can calm anxiety, perhaps ease pain and provide a diversion during chemotherapy or other cancer treatment,” states Diane Grillo, Vice President, Health Promotion at RWJUH Hamilton.
This fall, the students are working on the app together as a team of coders, user experience researchers, and asset designers, including musicians and visual artists. The app portrays the Grounds for Healing at the hospital, and includes functions for musical engagement. The team is investigating traditional methods of music therapy and conducting informal user testing of the app through surveys and interviews. The eventual goal is to roll out a full pilot program in collaboration with patients and staff.
The students from TCNJ include: Mistee Branchek of West Windsor NJ, an interactive multimedia major with minors in computer science and music technology; Everett Huynh of Trenton, NJ, an interactive multimedia major; Celeste Krewson of Allentown, NJ, an interactive multimedia major and minor in professional writing; Courtney Lee of Rockaway, NJ, an interactive multimedia major and minor in graphic design; Alexander Almacky of East Rutherford, NJ, an interactive multimedia major with a minor in marketing; Amanda Brewer of Bridgewater, NJ, an interactive multimedia major with a minor in photography and video, marketing, and music technology; Adina Weiss of Cherry Hill, NJ, an interactive multimedia major with minors in music and music technology; Andrew Rosen of Park Ridge, NJ, a business (management) major with a minor in music technology; Donna Jung of Fair Lawn, NJ, an interactive multimedia major with minors in communication studies and music technology.
Rosen, who is composing and producing the music that will be used at the hospital, shares a personal connection to the project. His grandmother is a cancer survivor.
“I understand the hardships of what these patients and families are going through. However, I also know that cancer can be beaten and a positive mindset is extremely important; my grandmother survived her fights with cancer and she is still alive today,” he said. “I am honored to have the ability to provide patients with a sense of hope and comfort during this process by listening to my music.”
Huynh is working with classmates on the coding portion of the project.
“I do not have a personal connection to cancer, but I do have a strong connection to music and I think it can be very powerful,” Huynh said. “I wanted to use my skills and passion for music to benefit others through music therapy.”