Music has always been a core piece of my life. I attended an arts elementary school where I learned to play the piano and started to sing. I have sung in choirs and show choirs, musicals, a cappella groups and weddings. I taught myself to play the guitar, ukulele, and most recently have tried my hand(s) at the violin. Needless to say, it is a huge part of my identity.
For me, music has been a form of self-expression and the best kind of therapy. A perfect afternoon was always sitting on my bed with my guitar, getting lost in a song. A perfect night was much the same, but in a coffee shop in front of a small crowd from my hometown. The music brought me peace.
Despite participating in a cappella and musical theater during my years as an undergraduate student, I felt disconnected from music. I lost a sense of what music meant to me. I needed to feel the music again, and I was determined to rekindle that passion in medical school. My mental well-being depended on it.
About a week into my M1 year, I received an email from the Medical Arts Program Artists’ Guild (MAPAG) about their upcoming showcase. They were calling for performers of all kinds (singers, instrumentalists, rappers, poets, storytellers, etc.) to come showcase their passions. I thought back to my years in high school singing in small coffee shops and decided to give it a go. I filled out the interest form (it was that easy) and began practicing.
The showcase took place on a warm evening in late September. I showed up early (as I always do) and tuned my guitar. I could feel my heart in my throat. Has it really been that long since I’ve played like this? I began my soundcheck and quickly realized that oh man, I should have brought my acoustic electric guitar but I just like this guitar better okay and I guess it’s good that you can hardly hear it because I keep messing up I am so nervous! Then Kevin, my fellow M1 and guitar ROCKSTAR, offered me use of his guitar. It was the exact same as mine, but could be plugged in so people could actually hear it. I hesitantly agreed…
My friends and classmates began to fill the seats. I helped myself to a plate of cookies to calm my nerves. Then, the show began. I wish I could say it went off without a hitch but, honestly, I messed up! And so did other people! And it was okay, because it was fun. Being up on the stage in front of a small crowd, just me and my guitar, made me feel things I haven’t felt in a long time.
The talent in the room was unbelievable. It was humbling. It is easy to see your fellow medical students and think about how smart they are, but the reality is that there is so much more to each of them than being a medical student. For us musicians, MAPAG gave us an opportunity to engage in that part of our lives, to celebrate that part of ourselves, and to remember why we love music. That night reminded me that music is a way in which I can connect with emotions that I otherwise leave unspoken. When words fail, music speaks.
Of course, it takes more than one amazing night to reconnect with a lost love, but I am well on my way.
Haley is a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She is interested in pediatric neurosurgery. When she’s not in Taubman Health Sciences Library, and even when she is, you can find her enjoying a good nap.