School of Music project aims to ease anxiety with transformative power of music

A string quartet records in Studio B
A string quartet composed of Mercer University students records in Phil Walden Memorial Studio B at Capricorn Sound Studios in April as part of the healing arts project.

Early one November morning, Dr. David Keith, dean of Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music, was preparing to speak at a club meeting in Macon. At about 6 a.m., he checked the news. 

“And something caught my eye,” he recalled. 

It was a news story about a man named Paul Harvey, a British composer with dementia. Harvey had improvised a four-note piece, and a video of him playing it on the piano had gone viral, which led the BBC Philharmonic to arrange and record the song.

“Four Notes – Paul’s Tune,” quickly rose to the top of the iTunes and Amazon charts.

Dr. David Keith

The story, which highlighted the power of music and its impact on mental health, stuck with Dr. Keith.  

“I sat there that morning and thought that there are so many people who are dealing with so many things,” Dr. Keith recalled. “What if we created what we would call the healing arts project?” 

The idea was to have Mercer choral groups, soloists and other musicians record soothing music that would be shared with patients in health care settings, where they are likely to feel anxiety. The music also would be available to anyone feeling stress.

“We know that music can speak to the emotions, and we’re hoping that the emotions that this speaks to will be the emotions of calmness,” Dr. Keith said. 

In April, talented musicians from across the School of Music recorded pieces at Mercer Music at Capricorn’s Capricorn Sound Studios and in Fickling Hall. 

The music is expected to be available for free on more than 200 streaming platforms this summer, said Steve Ivey, a Mercer alumnus and Grammy nominee who is producing the record, titled “Promises of Hope.” 

Steve Ivey

“Everywhere you can literally think of it will be available to listen to,” he said. 

In addition, the music will be uploaded on 5,000 MP3 players that will be distributed with earphones to health care facilities in Macon. 

The $60,000 project is funded by the Josephine Phelps Fabian Fund of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. Fabian was a passionate supporter of the arts. Before she died in 2019, she made a multi-million-dollar commitment to the University, endowing the Jo Phelps Fabian Center for Musical Excellence

“When (Jo Fabian) gave the money to the music school and was asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ her statement was, ‘It’s through the invisible hands of music that the soul is healed,’” Dr. Keith said. “And so we hope that this will be something that can help in the healing process.” 

Cameron Rolling, who graduated from the School of Music in May, sang on the album as a soloist and with the Mercer Singers. He said as soon as he heard about the project, he wanted to participate.

Cameron Rolling, who graduated from Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music in May, records in Historic Studio A at Capricorn Sound Studios in April as part of the healing arts project.

“It is the essence of music,” he said. “Music has that ability and has that power to heal, so the fact that they wanted to bring all these aspects together — strings, choir, solo voice — and send it to these people that are going through these terrible things … to try to bring peace and some tranquility and some kind of encouragement and upliftedness to these people’s lives, it was just amazing.” 

Rolling sang “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music,” “Ain’t-a That Good News” arranged by Dr. Uzee Brown Jr., and “At the Feet of Jesus,” an African American spiritual, as his solos.  

“When you’re at the feet of Jesus, all that (hardship) goes away, and I felt that that would be the thing to communicate,” he said. “Whether you’re religious or not, that’s something that you could buy into, something of the nature of a higher power and being able to just find solace in that.” 

Among the other Mercer musicians were Caleb Esmond, pianist; Mary Grace Roark, vocalist; a string quartet including Caitlyn Clingenpeel and Augusta Schubert on violins, Seido Karasaki on viola and Constantine Janello on cello; Amy Schwartz Moretti, violinist; Leo Singer, cellist; Dr. Carol Goff, pianist; and the Mercer Singers, led by Dr. Stanley Roberts. Rob Evans, chief engineer at Capricorn Sound Studios, engineered the record, with Steve Moretti, a drummer, percussionist and producer, engineering the strings. 

“The talent level at Mercer is really outstanding, and it is fantastic to work with them,” Ivey said. “They’re so good that the process of recording is really just enjoyable and fun; it’s not work.” 

He said he was happy to get on board with the project. 

“I love doing projects that have a deeper meaning,” he said. “I feel like it’s an investment in what I’m doing because it has a deeper reach to the community and a deeper meaning, and it’s actually helping people. … It’s got a lot more depth to it than just the typical recording artist project that I do.” 

Dr. Keith said he once witnessed the transformative power of music in Fabian, and now he hopes her gift will allow others to experience it. 

“In moments of stress and moments of anxiety, perhaps there will be something in the music that is played that will be transformative for the person who’s hearing it,” he said.

This is the news story that inspired Dr. David Keith, dean of Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music, to start the healing arts project.


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