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Healing Harmonies: Building Community Through Music

Students pose pretending to play instruments in front of Silver Oaks Memory Care Center

Music brings people together in profound ways; it transcends boundaries, fosters unity, and forges lasting connections among individuals. At Stanford, this transformative potential is found in Healing Harmonies, a student-led organization that performs music at senior centers, thus integrating music with a compassionate spirit of service and community. By playing heartfelt melodies, classical compositions, and timeless classics at senior centers, Healing Harmonies leverages the power of music to foster connection and joy amidst the shadows of isolation for senior citizens. 

Headshot of Lenae Joe '24

At the heart of Healing Harmonies is Human Biology senior Lenae Joe, the group’s co-founder and co-president. A violinist trained in classical music, Joe wanted to continue playing music in college. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe and her close friend Linda Liu ‘24 noticed that the music therapy clubs they were interested in joining, like many other student organizations on campus, had become inactive with no timeline for if and when they would return. With the pandemic forcing people into isolation, Joe and Liu decided to create a group that would bring people together through a shared love of music. “Music is a powerful form of therapy,” Joe explained, “and we recognized the impact of social isolation on overall health and happiness, especially for the elderly population.” They began reaching out to memory care centers and senior assisted living facilities across the Bay Area to offer performances. The duo officially founded Healing Harmonies in the spring of 2022, recruited other students into the group, and began performing at these centers each month. 

To minimize barriers and encourage greater participation, the club is open to students of all music levels with experience playing at least one instrument. As co-president, Joe tries to cultivate an inclusive and supportive environment for all those interested in music, community, and service. Today, more than 100 students from across the Stanford community bring their talents, and compassion, to the group. 

Each quarter, a subset of students involved in the group visits memory care centers, assisted living centers, and other senior facilities to perform. They play a wide range of music that includes works by Frédéric Chopin, Frank Sinatra, Taylor Swift, and the Beatles, and their instruments vary depending on who comes to play that day. There might be violins, pianos, ukuleles, guitars, or even a Chinese erhu. The students also take musical requests from the audience members or customize their performance if they visit during the holiday season. 

After the performances, students spend time talking to the audience members and exchanging stories. One audience member shared with Joe that the music brought back wonderful memories of her days as a dancer. “It is heartwarming to witness seniors with memory loss remember the melodies and lyrics of their favorite songs,” Joe reflected. “And the atmosphere throughout the performances is very uplifting and wholesome, and it is always a fun experience performing with friends!” 

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic through today, Healing Harmonies has remained steadfast in its mission. Joe, Liu, and the other students involved in Healing Harmonies continue to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances and safety guidelines of community partners while also prioritizing their own health and safety. 

As a newer club, the group is also finding ways to improve based on the feedback of students and audience members alike. Recently, the club has expanded its leadership structure, forming a board to involve more members in decision-making processes and bringing fresh ideas to the table. With each performance, students learn what works and what doesn’t and discover different and new ways to interact with the audience. For instance, they just secured funding to purchase maracas so that the audience can play along. 

Students table at Stanford NSO fair

Joe’s passion for music and efforts with Healing Harmonies has intertwined with her studies in Human Biology and her plan to pursue a career in healthcare. Equipped with the tools and knowledge she’s built in HumBio, where she has explored the biological and social determinants of health and disease, Joe aspires to be a physician serving vulnerable populations. She knows that to be effective, she will need to connect with patients on a deeper level and overcome communication and cultural barriers.

With the group continuously growing and evolving, Joe’s goal is to keep forging meaningful connections with community partners and expand their reach to more senior and assisted living centers in the Bay Area. “Healing Harmonies is truly a space where students and community members can come together and enjoy music in each other’s company,” Joe shared. “I try to lead Healing Harmonies in creating lasting positive experiences for both students and audience members. And I hope these experiences will continue after I graduate.”