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Diane McElfish Helle : Musician For Health
by Hannah Thomas-Hollands - GRS Cello


We all know that music makes our lives better; that's why the Grand Rapids Symphony exists! But beyond the abstract “good feelings” we get listening to great music and connecting with the human experiences of others, there are many physical and tangible benefits that come from live performance, especially among those who are ill. Grand Rapids has a booming medical community, and GRSMA is so thrilled that one of our own, Diane McElfish Helle, has started and now expanded the Grand Rapids Symphony’s highly successful Music for Health Initiative, with programs that partner GRS musicians with music therapists in a variety of health care facilities.

At its inception in 2013, Music for Health had six musicians working with one music therapist at Spectrum Neuro-Rehab Center. The participants in three monthly group sessions were live-in patients dealing with varying degrees of dementia and/or difficulty with day-to-day tasks due to traumatic brain injury as well as “subacute” patients just released from the hospital. Diane worked closely with the therapists to design programs for duos to engage the patients physically, mentally, and emotionally, using live music to stimulate recollection, movement, and a whole range of cognitive skills.

In addition to expanding live sessions to Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, during the second year, the GRS was awarded a Getty Foundation Grant to commission former Assistant Principal Cellist Jeremy Crosmer to compose and arrange many short pieces and exercises exclusively for this endeavor. In December of 2016, as a special project, twelve musicians recorded twenty-four Meditation Improvisations from this collection. More than four hours of music paired with Michigan nature photos on a 24-hour loop, became available in March 2017 on a new designated Relaxation TV Channel #112 at all five Grand Rapids Spectrum Hospitals.  Now patients, families and staff can experience an enhanced relaxing atmosphere anytime they want it. In August, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital added a low-stimulation (music only) version of the channel for use in their neo-natal intensive care unit.

The Music for Health Initiative has flourished thanks to faithful support from the Perrigo Charitable Foundation along with additional support from individuals and several hospital foundations.

Now in its fifth year, Music for Health includes seventeen GRS musicians (GRSMA members) led by six music therapists performing monthly group therapy sessions in several different locations and capacities, including the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on the “medical mile”, the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, the flagship programs at Spectrum Neuro-Rehab, and a new pilot program that will begin at Mary Free Bed in early 2018.


All of Diane's work has made a significant difference, and it has not gone unnoticed.  This past June, Diane was awarded a Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service from the League of American Orchestras at their annual national conference. Diane was one of five winners from a nationwide pool. The $7,000 award includes funding for training musicians, funds for the awardee, and funds for producing a video about the honored program.  You can find a link to Diane's video here.

On November 14, the Grand Rapids Symphony also joined in recognizing Diane for her contributions to the orchestra by honoring her with a 2017 Bravo Award. She was the first musician, who was not also a conductor, to receive this highest honor from the Grand Rapids Symphony.


GRSMA members are delighted to be part of this great work in our community, and we applaud Diane for all that she has done and continues to do!

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