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A volunteer program that taps into the power of music

Volunteer musicians with The Ottawa Hospital’s Musical Moments program

As Tony Lin’s fingers glide across the keyboard conjuring notes of Liszt and Beethoven, his audience on the Transitional Care Unit listens attentively. Some have their eyes closed and sway rhythmically to the music.

“I’m glad I had the time to volunteer this semester,” says Tony, a third-year Translational and Molecular Medicine (TMM) student at the University of Ottawa. “I wanted to be able to give back in some way.” 

Tony is one of a handful of volunteer musicians who make up The Ottawa Hospital’s Musical Moments program. Musical Moments is based on a similar project at hospitals in the United States, where volunteers play live music to support positive outcomes for patients, visitors and staff.

At The Ottawa Hospital, musicians can often be found playing at the main entrances of the General and Civic campuses and in various units. And now, a year since its inception, the program is set to expand.

The connection between music and medicine  

“It’s all about improving the patient experience,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Mariana Milano Franco, who volunteers with Musical Moments during breaks from her role as an outpatient clerk in the radiology department at The Ottawa Hospital. “Knowing we have a positive effect on patients’ lives, even for a short while, is important to me,” she says. “And I hope they enjoy themselves.” You may have recently spotted Mariana performing at the entrance to the Cancer Centre.

Our volunteers can feel and see that these musical sessions are having a positive impact — and research confirms it. Many studies have shown that music can aid in patient recovery by lowering blood pressure, decreasing cortisol levels and reducing stress. It can also reach patients who aren’t responding to other stimuli.

Nia Sharifi, Musical Moments coordinator with the hospital’s Volunteer Resources team, has witnessed it first-hand.

Nia Sharifi, Musical Moments coordinator with the hospital’s Volunteer Resources team
“When a volunteer is playing at an entrance as people walk into the hospital, the positive effects of the music are obvious,” says Nia. “You can see it in their faces.”

More Musical Moments 

Musical Moments is expanding its current offerings into more units and with more performances at main entrances. To help with the added volume, the team is creating a booking system where musicians can be reserved for a specific day and time, complete with a selection of genres, instruments and more. 

“Eventually, we would like to start recording the performances so that patients can replay the concerts if they wish,” says Nia.

The Ottawa chapter of the Heart of the City Piano program (HCPP) is one of the incredible partners working with The Ottawa Hospital to provide instruments and volunteers for this program. They will soon be offering one-on-one music lessons to rehab patients on their journey to recovery.

For more information or to volunteer for the Musical Moments program, please contact Nia Sharifi at or Volunteer Resources at  


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