Guests hurried into the auditorium at The Ark as the lights dimmed and the band Acoustic Eidolon took the stage during Wednesday night’s second annual Micah Smiles Benefit Concert.
The performance drew applause from the filled auditorium, but an even more noticeable excitement radiated from the audience as the band and event organizers took time to talk about the event’s charitable mission: to continue to expand the music therapy program at C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.
The Micah Smiles Fund for Music Therapy was founded in December 2012 by Micah Canvasser’s mother, Jennifer Canvasser. Micah spent 10 months at Mott battling an intestinal disease before passing away at 11 months old. Throughout Micah’s time at Mott, she and her family cherished the music therapy program.
In Micah’s memory and in the support of the music therapy program, The Micah Smiles Benefit concert is a way to gather proceeds in an effort to enrich as many lives as of pediatric patients as possible through the healing powers of music.
Canvasser said the concert aims to raise awareness for the public about the power of music therapy.
“This is a therapy that is very powerful and can really uplift the kids’ spirits and help connect families together, bring a smile to the child’s face and get their mind off the painful surgeries and complications that they’re having,” she said.
Since its founding two years ago, the Micah Smiles Fund has raised $63,000 for music therapy at Mott and has seen the department triple from one full-time music therapist to two full-time employees and a new music therapy fellow.
Meredith Schlabig, Mott’s second full-time music therapist, said she tries to get to know patients on a personal level to better reach them through music.
“The main overarching thing for me as a music therapist is to really hone in on who the patients are as individuals and bring who they are into the room through music when sometimes they may not feel like who they are,” Schlabig said.
Schlabig works with patients on singing, songwriting, creative self-expression, pain management and positive coping skills. She also teaches instruments such as the ukulele, guitar and piano.
“My philosophy is if I go into a patient’s room and the child hasn’t smiled, I haven’t done my job,” Schlabig said. “The amount of smiles and laughter and conversation and beautiful music I get to make with patients every day is very rewarding to me.”
Mia Litzenberg, an 11-year-old singer who was recently hospitalized for severe eczema, has witnessed the benefits the program has to offer. She said the music therapists, particularly Schlabig, have always been extremely kind.
“They encourage you and they are always there for you,” Litzenberg said. “When I was getting my treatments, I was really depressed and sad, but when I met Meredith she was always helping me and she just brought me a smile.”
Liztenberg’s mother, Lisa, added that the music therapists completely changed her daughter’s attitude about her illness.
“When Meredith appeared with her guitar and keyboard, Mia forgot all of her problems,” she said. “She was a different person … it really got her mind off of the difficult times and treatments at the hospital.”
At the end of their first set, Acoustic Eidolon stepped aside and welcomed Mia to the stage to perform a cover of Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” with guitar accompaniment from Schlabig.
Acoustic Eidolon is composed of a double neck guitar player and cellist husband-wife combo. A cancer survivor herself, Acoustic Eidolon cellist Hannah Alkire said she can relate to stories like Mia’s, and is a strong advocate for the power of music to heal and inspire.
“I remember saying, ‘If I get picked to survive cancer, I’m going back and I’m going to take our music into hospitals and help other people through their journeys,’” Alkire said. “Anything that we can do to make a journey easier is worth it.”
LSA senior Amanda Schoonover, who volunteers with the music therapists, said the mission behind the benefit concert means a lot to her.
“It’s near and dear to my heart,” Schoonover said. “I volunteer at the hospital with the music therapists. It’s really cool and the artists are amazing.”
The Canvasser family and Mott hope to further expand the program every year by hiring more musical therapists and providing further treatment for those who need it most.