Children's Hospital of Orange County's Music Therapy Program Motivates Kids

4/9/2009 [Marching Instruments]

Yamaha Instruments & POCKETRAK Help Promote the Physical Healing Process

BUENA PARK, Calif. — Since its 2008 launch, the music therapy program in the Child Life Department at Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) has been promoting recovery and wellness among young patients. "It was my long-time dream to work at this hospital, and this program has been very well received," says part-time music therapist and program founder, Eric Mammen, MT-BC. Several Yamaha instruments, including guitars, digital drums, RealRhythm percussion instruments, a number of small drums, and a Yamaha POCKETRAK recorder-player, have helped confirm the program's value to children and their families.

CHOC Music Therapy Program
Helen, an oncology patient at CHOC, during her Music Therapy sessions with Eric Mammen
Contrary to popular perception, music therapy is not entertainment, nor is it a performance or concert. In a hospital setting such as CHOC, music therapy offers young patients a number of benefits: wellness and quality of life, management of stress and fear, alleviation of pain, expression of feelings, increased verbal and nonverbal communication, and promotion of gross and fine motor movements.

"The music is not the goal of music therapy. Cognitive stimulation, self-expression, self-awareness, or increased motor movements are some of the goals that music therapy can focus on in the hospital, and the music is a tool to achieve these goals," says Mammen, who adds that young patients respond very well to sessions, often when other types of intervention have proved unsuccessful. "One ten-year-old girl had her appendix removed, and refused to get up out of bed and move about, a crucial aspect of her recovery and release from the hospital," he says. "Once she began to participate in music therapy sessions, her spirits lifted and she began to move. Her mother told me, 'music woke her up'."

Another six-year old boy, in isolation for at least a month due to a compromised immune system following a bone marrow transplant, was often very sad and lonely. However, with music therapy sessions, he showed dramatic improvements in his overall coping skills and a more positive disposition. He even recorded himself singing "I'm A Believer," from the movie Shrek, and made up his own funny rhymes to the song, "Down By The Bay." "His mother told me the music helps him so much, and she's very appreciative of this opportunity for her son," says Mammen.

Since patients range in age from preemies to age 21, on any given day Mammen can be heard singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' to Metallica, and everything in between. He concentrates on kids in isolation situations but, if children are mobile, he might also work in small groups of two to four patients where socialization is an added bonus. And, older kids are especially excited with the songwriting software Mammen uses in their sessions. "They can compose and record original songs. Some already have musical abilities or have been taking lessons; others don't. Yamaha has generously donated some extra guitars for patients to borrow while they are at CHOC."

The Yamaha POCKETRAK adds valuable dimension to the program. Mammen records children singing and playing Yamaha instruments and then burns CDs for children and their parents. Since the debut of the West Coast's first Radio Lollipop station at CHOC, the music may also then be broadcast throughout the hospital. The fully equipped in-house radio station in the lobby of CHOC is staffed by volunteer DJs who take call-in requests and put them "on air" from the bedside or the studio. "Kids can call down to the DJ, and say, 'hi, my name is so-and-so,' and then talk about their song. They're thrilled to hear their voice and their song, and the CDs become very special to the parents." Mammen says the versatile POCKETRAK microphone can be set for different sensitivities, from a child singing very softly to playing a guitar, and is especially useful for recording shy children or those experiencing communication challenges brought on by medical issues.

"These children may have an IV attached to them, but they're smiling and laughing when they hear their song on the radio. It's a highlight of their day," says Carol Baker, VP of human resources for Yamaha. "Yamaha is very pleased to be a part of the music therapy program at CHOC, and we hope that this essential program will continue to expand to meet the needs of the CHOC kids."

CHOC is the 16th busiest children's hospital in the country and its music therapy program is funded by private donations. For more information, visit

For more information about Yamaha Corporation of America, write P.O. Box 6600, Buena Park, CA 90622; telephone (714) 522-9011; or email

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