By Monica Guzman
On Friday, Dec. 2 at Seattle Children’s Hospital, 11-year-old Braydon Hutchison was crying. It wasn’t because of his leukemia, which kept him quarantined, or the nausea and vomiting that had made him sick all day. A musician he’d never met was playing a concert across town in his honor, calling out his name to the crowd. Braydon could see the live stream on his laptop from his hospital bed, and it finally moved him to tears.
It was the best thing that ever happened to him in the hospital, Braydon said later. “It made me feel really good.”
The musician was local artist Levi Ware. The concert was the work of the Melodic Caring Project, a nonprofit startup Ware and his wife, Stephanie, founded last year with the mission of using music and technology to help kids heal.
“I’ve always felt music was for more than entertaining,” said Ware, 35. “Now, finally, with this coming together, it’s like, ‘Wow — this is really our purpose.’”
The idea for Melodic Caring Project grew out of an August 2010 benefit concert Ware and other artists performed in Mount Vernon, Wash., for Kaydee Curbow, a then-11-year-old girl who was battling leukemia. Treatment for the disease can leave the immune system susceptible to infection. So Kaydee, a student of an elementary-school teacher who is one of Ware’s friends, could not leave the hospital.
“We thought, ‘It’s great to do this in Mount Vernon, but we want her to know people care, so how can we make her a part of it?’” Ware said.
Ware set up a camera at the venue and told Kaydee’s family how to access the concert via Livestream. She and her mother, Patti, watched from her hospital room as people she’d never met came together in her honor.
“We called her afterward, and she was so happy,” Ware said. “That’s how Melodic Care Project was born.”
The Wares put on three more shows for Kaydee, including an emotional homecoming concert, that helped her family raise more than $5,000 for medical expenses.
At the end of the year, Levi and Stephanie made a big decision. Levi quit his day job in construction, and Stephanie quit hers in accounting, so the couple could devote themselves full- time to cultivating an idea they said already feels bigger than they are. They’re starting small, but with partnerships with the Seattle Living Room Shows and the Fremont Abbey Arts Center about to kick off, they’re looking forward to helping more and bigger acts break hospitalized kids’ isolation and give them a meaningful experience.
“The staff, the nurses would come in and and watch it and say, ‘How cool that they’re doing this for you,’” Patti Curbow, Kaydee’s mom, said about her daughter’s streamed concerts. “I hope (Levi Ware) does really well with this, just because of how it’s made us feel. You can tell his heart is totally into it. He wants to help people. He wants to make the crazy go away for a while.”
The Wares want to keep their service free to patients, and free to the hospital. So to make the project sustainable, they know, they have some work to do. Most costs so far they’ve paid out of pocket, and the Dec. 2 concert — the project’s first after the Wares’ shows for Kaydee — relied on a volunteer cameraman who used his own equipment.
Their first step is to launch an online community fundraising campaign on Kickstarter or PledgeMusic in the coming weeks. Also on the to-do list: apply for grants, scout for corporate sponsorships and host fundraisers for the nonprofit. The first fundraiser, a combination benefit that will double as a live streamed show to hospitalized kids, is scheduled for March 29.
The Wares have met one early goal to collaborate with local performance series so visiting artists can easily plug in with kids as they play. Another is to partner with hospitals that can connect artists with patients.
To set up the Dec. 2 show at Seattle Children’s, the Wares approached David Knott, the hospital’s resident music therapist. Intrigued by the idea, Knott introduced the Wares to three young patients — including Braydon — whom he’d deemed to be “music identified,” meaning that they respond to music in ways that help them deal with pain.
When the patients’ families agreed to take part in the concert, they were told the appointed time to tune their laptops or tablets to the project’s Livestream channel for the show. Ware, who was performing live at the non-profit Q Cafe in Seattle, told the crowd that night that the concert was dedicated to three special fans at Seattle Children’s.
He referenced the kids by name throughout his set while Stephanie chatted with them and their families on Livestream, occasionally stepping up to the mic to share a comment or question. One of the children, the Wares later learned, could not participate due to last-minute treatment. The other, a little girl, spent part of the concert dancing with her nurses.
Renae Knowles, Braydon’s mom, watched with her son in his hospital room. Braydon had played guitar on and off for four years. He’s been practicing daily in his new room at Seattle Ronald McDonald House since the concert, Knowles said.
“Once we streamed in, it took his mind off the bad stuff that was going on, how (Ware) called his name several times and called them rock stars,” she said. “It touched his soul that strangers would be willing to do this for someone they didn’t know.”
Monica Guzmanis a community strategist in startups and media and a digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email.
More by Monica Guzman