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Veterans Health Administration

Helping Veterans with “A Few Good Notes.”

Portrait of a woman with a viola

Dr. Mary Rorro

A VA doctor stands with a viola and three additional musicians

Dr. Rorro and a band she brought in to play for residents of the Community Living Center at the Lyons Campus of the VA New Jersey Health Care System.

VA Psychiatrist Uses Music in Therapy Sessions for Veterans

“Music and medicine have been an integral part of my life since childhood,” explains Dr. Mary Rorro. She is a VA psychiatrist who uses her love for music to help Veterans.

And Veterans love it. As this reaction from a Veteran attests:

“I know I felt the music touch my soul because of the small teardrop that rolled down my cheek. This act of kindness and use of talent is a witness to healing and comforting to the Veterans such as myself and others that participate. Music continues to change lives and transform them. Peace to all.”

As a violist, Dr Rorro was first introduced to the healing power of music by playing for hospital patients. While in college Mary arranged benefit concerts for St. Christopher’s Hospital for children with AIDS and also arranged musical performances for soup kitchens, dubbed “From Soup to Notes.”

In medical school and residency, Dr. Rorro formed the “Musical Rounds” program, which united fellow medical students and professors to perform for patients. It was during her psychiatry residency in Boston that she first played for Veterans.

As a psychiatrist in the New Jersey VA Healthcare System, she now plays for Veterans in group therapy sessions in a program she created called “A Few Good Notes.”

Melodies such as Amazing Grace played during these sessions evoke memories of buddies the patients have lost in battle and help them face some of the emotional scars that the battles have left. Military and patriotic music also fosters group cohesiveness, and the Veterans will often spontaneously sing to these tunes because music can serve as a mode for expressing grief, loss and joy. Patients are also encouraged to listen to soothing music to help them cope with anxiety, irritability and insomnia.

The “A Few Good Notes” program has received a lot of attention nationally, giving VA employees throughout America an opportunity to share the gift of music with Veterans. Sharing music is a simple, yet profound, method to connect with Veterans.

Dr. Rorro notes that, “Blending music in my practice as a psychiatrist is a privilege for me and one that has had meaning for my patients.” She has received responses from throughout the VA expressing interest and participation in the program as evidenced by these quotes from Veterans, VA staff and other participants:

  • “My first experience playing my banjo with my musician friends for the Veterans at the VA Lyons campus was one of the most touching happenings I’ve ever had. It was truly thrilling to be able to bring smiles to Veterans who gave so much to their country and some who are still suffering from their noble effort.”
  • “I played in the lobby around the holidays and received lots of nice feedback. The Veterans and families were so responsive to it. Many employee musicians from the hospital got a group together and made the rounds on the different wards, much to the pleasure of the patients. I hope to keep myself engaged in music and this program as it is needed around the VA.”
  • A VA employee and Army Veteran in Saginaw, Michigan, was inspired to do just a little more. In the spirit and as part of “A Few Good Notes,” he brought in a gospel choir from a local Baptist Church to the VA medical center. “They were absolutely wonderful. We did roving carols and stopped in every clinic and waiting room throughout the facility. Everywhere we went, whatever was going on stopped, as the Veterans and staff listened to the wonderful music with many of them joining in. My body was engulfed with chills as the singing and reactions to it were so heartfelt.”

Dr. Rorro hopes that “A Few Good Notes” will continue to deliver joy to Veterans and staff alike. “Sharing your time and talents through music is a great way to pay tribute to our nation‘s Veterans for their service to our country. Show your appreciation for Veterans in a musical way!”

Any questions about implementing A Few Good Notes in your VA Medical Center and feedback may be directed to Dr. Rorro at mary.rorro@va.gov.