New Program Aims to Fill Hospital Halls With Music

Professional musician plans to launch music program to bring joy to hospital patients, families, staff, and visitors

Reviewed by: Mark Bernat, Director of Music Services
Written by: Lauryn Gerard

Jamming out to your favorite tunes can provide a great source of pleasure and entertainment, but research also suggests that listening to music can benefit your overall health and well-being. Music has been shown to elevate mood, reduce stress, relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression, ease pain, improve memory, provide comfort, and more. The mental and physical effects of music can be powerful and are often wide-ranging, so much so that filling the halls of the Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas with music has become a new initiative of the Dell Medical School and UT Health Austin.

Mark Bernat is a Juilliard-educated double bassist and former member of the Israel Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony, and the Seattle Symphony. He has taught music at the Oberlin Conservatory, The University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University. Bernat recently joined the Dell Medical School as the new Director of Music Services to establish a music program that brings together amateur musicians from across the university to provide musical entertainment in the atrium and waiting areas of the Dell Seton Medical Center. There are also plans to host performances by renowned musicians, both local and international.

“My wife and I moved from the University of Iowa, where for the past 12 years, I’ve been doing what I came here to The University of Texas to do, which is bring music and other performances to the hospital and community free of charge. My goal is to build a program that brings together faculty, staff, and student musicians from across the university who are interested in playing music together to deliver concerts to the patients and visitors of the hospital,” explains Bernat.

Bernat has experience organizing an orchestra consisting of amateur musicians, and he often performed on his own double bass in waiting rooms and at nurses’ stations at the University of Iowa. In addition to winning several national and international performance awards, Bernat has published transcriptions for double bass, performed solo numerous times internationally, and even has solo and orchestral recordings to his credit.

“I’ve been studying music since I was five and have been a professional musician since I was 15. My wife, now a professor in UT Austin’s Department of Neuroscience, was also a cellist, and our two children are currently studying music professionally at Juilliard. I honestly had no idea how powerful music really was until I started doing this work,” says Bernat.

“Typically, in a hospital setting, we are performing for smaller audiences,” continues Bernat, “and in the past, we have had people come up to us afterward in tears, thanking us for reminding them of better times or for helping them to briefly escape their current difficulties and pain.”

Bernat’s new program is still in its infancy, as it has been more difficult to source instruments and bring people together to play due to restrictions related to the pandemic. However, he has plans to bring together musicians virtually who may be interested in performing virtual concerts that could be streamed to patients’ mobile devices.

“This music program not only provides entertainment to hospital patients and staff, but also serves as a creative outlet and hobby for the amateur musicians who are also oftentimes the doctors and nurses who are providing care to patients every day. I’ve found our volunteers to be extremely passionate about this work and being a part of the program often benefits them as well,” says Bernat.

Bernat is also trying to source a piano to hopefully begin smaller musical performances in the atrium for those visitors and patients who are passing through. Additionally, Bernat will be leading an orchestra made up of faculty, staff, and students from The University of Texas at Austin who will rehearse and perform at the hospital.

“I never imagined I would be doing this type of work, but it has been extremely rewarding. I get to create music and build lasting relationships with other musicians all the while making an impact on the lives of people who may just need something uplifting to help get them through a difficult time in their life. The connections we make with people are very special,” says Bernat.

If you are interested in joining the university orchestra, you can contact Mark Bernat directly via email at mark.bernat@austin.utexas.edu.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.