WKLB’s Country Music Healing Tour

September 12, 2012

It’s amazing how a simple conversation can result in a program that brings joy to children when they need it most—during a hospital stay.

Such is the case with Greater Media Boston’s WKLB-FM’s Country Music Healing Tour, which developed from a conversation between the station’s Assistant Program Director/Music Director Ginny Rogers and Greater Media, Inc. Vice President of Corporate Communication Heidi Raphael.

“The Country Music Healing Tour idea was born on the evening of the ‘Working Wonders’ for Tufts Medical Center gala,” Rogers said.

At the gala, Raphael, who is on the hospital’s Board of Governors, WKLB Program Director Mike Brophey, and Rogers were discussing the possibility of arranging for artists to visit children being treated at the Floating Hospital for Children, which is part of Tuft’s Medical Center.

“We talked about the national program Musicians On Call and lamented that there was no program like it in Boston,” said Rogers, explaining that Musicians on Call delivers live and recorded music to the bedside of hospitalized patients.

“We decided to look into the idea and bring it to our charity of choice, Floating Hospital for Children in Boston,” Rogers said.

Rogers and Raphael “did some digging” to find out where music programs existed in hospitals.

“We had worked with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis for many years and knew that singers and musicians, especially Nashville-based country artists, regularly visited the kids of St. Jude,” Rogers said. “They didn’t always sing, but they took the time to cheer patients up with visits. And Musicians On Call, which started in Nashville, has blossomed to a national effort in many cities, except Boston.”

Rogers said that she and Raphael were surprised to learn nobody had started a program of this kind in what Rogers called “our great music city.”

They decided it was about time someone did.

Greater Media Boston’s Country 102.5 already has a relationship in place with Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Rogers explained.

“We already have two music concerts series to benefit Floating Hospital for Children, which include The Rockin’ Country Music Series at the Hard Rock Café in Boston and The American Pride Music Series at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Foxborough, Massachusetts,” Rogers said, adding that the benefit series for the hospital began in the fall of 2010.

“WKLB raised nearly $60,000 in the first year, and we are hoping to raise over $100,000 this year from the series,” she said.

Dr. John Schreiber, Chief Administrative Officer and Pediatrician-in-Chief at Floating Hospital for Children, said the hospital “couldn’t be more thrilled and grateful for our partnership with Country 102.5.”

“From the continuing music series concerts … to this exciting new program that will bring energy and smiles to our young patients in the hospital, Country 102.5 really embodies our mission to improve the lives of children and their families,” Dr. Schreiber said.

Brophey said WKLB is “thrilled to be a part of this wonderful opportunity to share the healing sounds of country music with pediatric patients and their families at the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston.”

He added that country artists have long been recognized as some of the most kind and giving performers in the music industry.

“It is our hope that this new initiative will bring a bit of joy and comfort to both the kids and their families as they confront health challenges while staying at the hospital,” Brophey said.

As the idea of the Country Music Healing Tour unfolded, Rogers realized that many of the artists who come to play for the station’s benefit concert series for the hospital, never actually see the hospital.

“We thought creating this Country Music Healing Tour would be an opportunity for the musical acts see firsthand what amazing work Floating Hospital for Children does,” Rogers said.

“Most of those artists have experienced visiting sick kids at a children’s hospital and are prepared for what they will see, such as tubes, intravenous infusions and big round saucer eyes of kids looking in awe at them,” she said. “We thought, if we can get the acts to sing a couple of songs too, then it would really brighten the day of the patients and their families.”

Rogers and Raphael were aiming not just for a visit with autographed pictures and a photo op for the press. They wanted something real, something memorable, something that would reach much deeper and bring about a total emotional experience that included music and song.

“We have so many country acts coming through the Boston area in the summer, we decided to ask whoever was accessible and available coming through for a show, to help us out with the tour, not just those who perform at our benefits,” Rogers explained.

This is how the musical tour’s inaugural group, Gloriana, came to be the first. The band was playing a gig at Royale, just down the street from the hospital, so the band built one hour of extra time into their schedule to visit the hospital on April 12.

Gloriana performed songs in the children’s playroom at Floating Hospital for Children, and band members met with patients before their performance later in the evening at Royale.

“The visits are quite simple. The ‘model’ is to have the acts at the hospital perform for one hour. They play two songs at the Children’s Playroom in the Ace Bailey Child Center, sign and take photos with the patients and families, then go to another floor to visit children in their rooms who are too sick to visit the playroom,” Rogers said. “Gloriana sang one more song for a group of families and patients on the bone marrow floor of the hospital. We all had to have special hand cleansing before we entered and exited to keep the area as sterile as possible.”

The tunes they sang in the playroom were upbeat and bright, but Rogers said that the song they sang for the more bed-ridden children “was a lovely ballad, infused with their gorgeous three-part harmonies,” Rogers said.   A video of the performance is available at http://www.wklb.com/countryheals.aspx.

Rogers said. “Our goal is one artist per month, but more if available. It is our hope this program will grow into a premier series for WKLB and the hospital in bringing comfort to families and children being treated at Floating Hospital.”

Describing how it felt to see it all come together, Rogers said, “As I watched the precious faces of the children while Gloriana sang a gentle song to them, I felt overwhelmed with emotion, trying to hide my inner joy. I was actually seeing this program come to fruition after talking and planning and pouring our hearts into making it fly. I knew in my heart country music was bringing a little lightness to the difficult days for these families.”

Floating Hospital for Children in Boston is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center, the principal children’s teaching hospital of Tufts University School of Medicine. Its services range from prevention and primary care to the most sophisticated treatment of rare and unusual conditions. Its stated mission is to improve the lives of children and their families every day.