Doctors once made house calls carrying their little black bags. When Cheryl Houck makes her version of a house call, she carries a portable keyboard in her bag.

Cheryl Houck plays her keyboard and sings during a recent music therapy session for 100-year-old Ethel Budde of Alton on Alton Memorial Hospital’s Surgical Care Unit.Houck, a longtime music educator in the Alton-Godfrey area, is performing music therapy three days a week at Alton Memorial Hospital. She travels from room to room on the various patient floors and spends a little time with patients who get their medicine from the soothing sounds of Houck’s keyboard.

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“Music therapy in the hospital setting can specifically address pain and breathing issues,” said Houck, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Therapy from Maryville University in 2012. “Music has been shown to lower pain, lower heart rates, promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.”

There is no additional charge to patients for Houck’s services. She spends up to 20-30 minutes with a patient and plays whatever genre of music they prefer. Houck was volunteering at AMH before going back to school and after a conversation with hospital leadership has returned to fulfill her internship requirements.

 “I start out each day and basically go door to door like a salesman,” Houck said. “I can often see the relaxation on the patient’s face, and often they will drift off to sleep while I’m playing. That’s actually the greatest compliment I can receive.

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“And the music can be helpful to the nurses on the floor, too. They can have stressful jobs, so a little relaxation for them can be a good thing.”

Houck earned an associate’s degree in Music Education from Lewis and Clark Community College in the 1980s and then a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville a few years later. She has taught piano privately for 50 years, and also taught music at both LCCC and in the Alton School District. She also sang in a gospel quartet for years along with her husband, Tom.

“Music therapy was something that I became aware of a few years ago and I quickly became interested in pursuing it,” she said. “I have seen some very good results. I check each patient’s heart rate at the beginning of the session and again when it’s over. I fill out a report for each session that I do and that goes in the patient’s file.”

The tranquility of Houck’s therapy is summed up in the motto at the bottom of her informational brochure:

“When Music Hits, It Doesn’t Hurt.”

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