After ten years of livestreaming music to kids quarantined for chemo, the organization finds mainstream relevance from life under lockdown
“I’m talking WARR-I-ORS,” says singer-songwriter Amos Lee, accenting every syllable with a hard stop. He’s reflecting on all the kids going through chemo treatments – often for years.
“In times like this, those kids should be the ones we’re turning to and asking how do you handle this all the time?”
Lee is one of many artists using music to help kids in cancer treatment, and especially those in quarantine. He’s done it by partnering with the Melodic Caring Project, a Seattle-based nonprofit founded by singer-songwriter Levi Ware that streams live concerts into hospitals directly to the beds of quarantined kids. These come with personalized shout-outs from artists in the kids.
Now that Americans have been social distancing for months, there might be a greater appreciation for what it’s like to undergo chemotherapy. Chemo patients must frequently spend weeks in quarantine to allow their immune systems to recover from the heavy toll the drugs take on their bodies.
These periods of quarantine and the accompanying sickness are especially heartbreaking for pediatric cancer patients, who must miss school and other activities essential to a normal childhood.
The Melodic Caring Project is the brainchild of songwriter Levi Ware and his wife, Stephanie, who initially created the program’s streaming format by accident over ten years ago. One of the couple’s friends – a middle school teacher – contacted Levi when Katie, one of his students, was diagnosed with cancer.
“She was scared, “ said Ware. “The class was scared. So my friend called to look for ideas on what we could do to help everyone through the situation. And being a long time touring musician, music is always my go-to. That’s the most effective way I know to help people.”
The original plan Levi and his wife cooked up to support the Katie came straight from the traditional playbook of musicians helping the sick. They arranged a concert for her, intending her to be present to feel the love and support of the community. But the day of the show, her chemo regimen forced Katie to be quarantined, so she couldn’t attend. Both the event organizers and Katie were crushed.
Fortunately, Levi refused to give up on the event.
“I had a laptop,” he said, “and there was a coffee shop across the street with an open WIFI network. So I thought, let’s stream the show to her. We set the laptop down on the stage and pointed to the camera and said, ‘Katie, you’re supposed to be here. All of us are here to support you, and we want you to know you’re not alone.’”
In speaking with Levi, you can hear the hopefulness in his voice, and understand why he’s a person you might call for if someone you loved needed support. In Katie’s case, his mindset of never giving up paid off.
“I called her afterward in the hospital and she was crying, and her mom was crying. And we realized that we could do this for kids everywhere.”
After that initial concert, Levi and Stephanie began researching to see if anyone else was live streaming music to kids in quarantine. When they found it was an unaddressed need, they began the long process of creating a nonprofit, and turning their initial success with Katie into a replicable program.
Today, the format hasn’t strayed far from the initial concert. Melodic Cares partners with major artists on tour, and sends a video crew to the show. Throughout the set, the artists call out the names of the kids who are watching – about nine per show – and invites the audience to join in sending them love and support in the hospital.
“There’s something really beautiful that happens,” Ware said. “There’s an energy that takes over the venue.” To hear him describe it, you can’t help but feel the goosebumps.
“When that connects with the crowd, they inevitably erupt. And it creates this beautiful energy between the artists and the kids.”
The roster of artists that have joined the Melodic Caring Project is impressive. It includes Brandi Carlisle, Jason Mraz, Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay, and Amos Lee. Lee says that for him, the motivation behind participating in the program is deeply personal. “Music can be a moment – even if it’s just a moment – to transcend your pain. As a writer, and as a music lover, when I’ve been in my deepest states of pain the only thing that’s really helped me has been a song.”
Lee says some of the kids he’s connected with through the Melodic Caring Project have been in cancer treatment for over a decade. Whether some will ever enter remission remains to be seen, but he’s convinced that music is an important part of their healing.
“We’re not curing anything, but we are helping to heal,” he says. “It’s not medicinal, but there’s something about music that is mystical. Because we ride that strange ride in the ether where we appear and disappear, and we find these places where we really help other folks. And I still feel and continue to feel a calling to do that.”
Lee speaks highly of his work with Melodic Caring and its founder.
“Levi is a wise animal,” he said. “He’s a beautiful soul. His energy is positive and he’s trying to help people.”
Now in its tenth year of streaming shows to pediatric cancer patients, The Melodic Caring Project is trying to adapt to life in COVID-19. It fell short of its fundraising goal when their annual gala was canceled. Ware is hopeful that the newfound relatability of life in isolation will help raise awareness of their cause.
“Ironically,” he says, “nobody is better at dealing with this extraordinary and abnormal situation than the children we have supported for years.”
I have a couple of kids I’ve worked with, one of whom has been in treatment since she was six months old and now she’s eleven.” He lets the gravity of that fact hang in the air for a moment.
When it comes to supporting kids in chemotherapy, Levi Ware is quick to point out that their plight has become suddenly relatable.
“The world has now been in isolation for a month and a half, and we’re all losing our minds,” he says with a laugh. “These kids have been completely removed from any crowd. They’ve been removed from their peer groups, their schools.”
In one case, a 17-year-old girl had been through such intense radiation treatment that she was quarantined to protect others from her toxicity.
To make donations to the Melodic Caring Project’s mission of helping pediatric cancer patients in quarantine, please go here.