Elizabeth Leverage Hilles – Albemarle County Resident

Tell us about your volunteer activities. 
My primary volunteer activity is as a therapeutic musician with the UVA hospital, Hospice of the Piedmont, and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.  I am certified to provide prescriptive music on violin and harp to individual patients by the bedside.  I play for individual patients in all conditions on the surgical, cardiac, cancer, burn, neurological, pediatric, and neonatal units, as well as for those reaching the end of their lives in the hospital or hospice care.  I recently completed a 2 ½ year certification program offered by the Music for Healing and Transition Program so that I could become a Certified Music Practitioner.  Therapeutic music is a technique of complementary and integrative medicine and provides a healing environment for patients.  It can help reduce blood pressure, stabilize heartrate, reduce the amount of pain medication needed, help induce relaxation and sleep, and help cognitively impaired patients find connection.  It can also benefit family members and medical facility staff.  As I play, I watch the patient and his or her monitors closely to see the effect the music is having, and I adjust the way I’m playing as needed for the patient’s needs in the moment. 

What inspires you to volunteer?
Since my teenage years, I have always volunteered in some capacity as a way to be part of the community in which I live.  As an adult, I have been involved in local nonprofit boards because I believe strongly in the value of nonprofits and the strength they bring to a community.  I have been playing musical instruments since I was 6 years old, but I had always played violin for my own enjoyment in local orchestras and bands.  A few years ago I felt a strong need to find a way to combine my love of music with volunteering, having occasionally played violin for local nursing homes and watched residents find joy in the music.  I learned that a friend in town, Kate Tamarkin, the Music Director of the Charlottesville Symphony, had become a Certified Music Practitioner.  I spoke with her about the program, and something just clicked.  I bought a harp, learned how to play it, and got certified on both violin and harp so that I could use either instrument depending on patient needs.  It’s hard to describe the incredible privilege it is to be with patients and their families during trying and often stressful and sad times.  It has been and continues to be inspiring, profound, and life-changing for me.   And there are other therapeutic musicians in Charlottesville!

If your volunteer work could make one long-lasting change, what would you want it to be?
I hope that therapeutic music continues to grow as a complementary medicine technique that can help health providers enhance the healing environment for their patients.  The change happens one-on-one with each patient, as they begin breathing on their own again, relax and fall asleep even when in high pain, begin breathing regularly and calmly after having significant anxiety, or begin singing lucidly and joyfully after not having been able to communicate due to cognitive impairment.  I have seen tense and worried family members relax for the first time after a long day of surgery and tests for their loved one, and I have been present as family members bid farewell to a beloved.  All of these may sound small individually, but each moment feels sacred.

What is a little-known fact about you?
I’ve been sky-diving (once) and rock-climbing.  I don’t do either anymore!

What brought you to Charlottesville/Albemarle County?
Law School (1989-1992), but after spending a dozen or so years in the Washington, D.C. area (where I grew up), a wonderful job at the University of Virginia brought me back to this beautiful place in 2004.