EDINBURG — Students of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Music on Thursday worked alongside those of the School of Medicine to provide healing for the community in harmony, using the instruments they know how to use best.
Those in the school’s nursing and medical programs used vials and syringes to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to residents while student musicians picked up their cellos and bows to fill the air with therapeutic melodies.
UTRGV cellist lecturer Tido Janssen, along with a handful of his students brought their cellos to the lobby of the medical school, where vaccination efforts have taken place since it received its first doses in December.
“We just wanted to add to the beauty and joy of getting vaccinated,” Janssen said, who was inspired by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Janssen even performed the same song Yo-Yo Ma did, Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major,” when the famed musician celebrated his second inoculation in Massachusetts by performing an impromptu solo while in a waiting room last month
Dr. Linda Nelson, the senior director of clinical operations for UTRGV’s School of Medicine was brought to tears talking about what the serenade meant to her.
“The music just fills your soul,” said Nelson, who leads the university’s vaccination efforts. “It’s already full from vaccinating (others) and the things we are doing, but it really fills your soul.”
On Tuesday, around 1,600 people were set to receive either their first or second COVID-19 shot at the Edinburg university, adding to the total of 55,000-odd administered throughout all UTRGV vaccine sites, including those in Brownsville and Harlingen.
Two of those who received their first doses were student cellists. After performing a couple songs, UTRGV junior Kimberly Reyes put her cello and bow back in its case for just a moment to get her shot at the other side of the lobby.
She said for her, it was a day full of hope.
“I got vaccinated and I was able to play for a live audience,” the 22-year-old said with a smile evident through her mask. “It’s been tough, but today I just feel so hopeful and encouraged, and I am glad I get to share this with others through my music.”
Student cellist Israel Cantu was also inoculated that morning after he performed a few songs, and said being able to play for others also receiving their shots was symbolic.
“Being able to play here, to share music at a vaccination site is kind of like putting the nail in the coffin,” the 27 year old said. “That this chapter is going behind us.”
Cantu is a senior of the school’s music education program, and though he won’t be able to have a senior concert — a tradition of playing together as students for the last time — performing at the vaccination site made his heart content.
“It’s my passion to play and perform music for people, so it certainly is a blessing to be able to share that with others today,” Cantu said, who in between songs, was tuned into a class through Zoom on his phone.
Cantu’s instructor, Janssen, said being able to play for a live audience was refreshing.
“I played alone a lot last year just because I was home all the time,” the cello instructor of 11 years said. “It was very different, it was good because I had a lot of time to play and find peace, but now I am just hungry to play for people and with people again.”
But it hasn’t been easy teaching music this past year, he said. Cello lessons just simply don’t translate well online. Poor audio quality makes it difficult for him to ensure his students are playing properly, and internet lags prevent his class from practicing together.
So being able to see his students Tuesday morning and hear them play meant a lot to Janssen.
Playing his cello that morning, Janssen said, made him feel joyful. His music may remind others at the vaccination site of the grief and loss they experienced in the past year. It may even push them to feel frustrated, remembering those who were unable to get their own shots in time.
Whatever emotion was brought to surface through Tuesday’s serenade, Janssen is glad music facilitated it.
“Music means something different to everybody,” he said. “Even if I play, what it means to you may be completely different from my understanding of it, and that’s important. It’s important that everyone finds their own understanding, and hears the music the way they want to and find solace in their own regard.”