Ron Hirschberg, MD, is a firm believer in the healing power of music. More specifically, the ability of recalling stories and turning them into songs to help improve symptoms of post-traumatic stress. “Songs are stories, and they can provide emotive texture and have a unique way of delivering content and message,” says Hirschberg, a physician in Massachusetts General Hospital's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services and the Home Base Program.

Hirschberg weaves together his passions for music and medicine through FrontlineSong, a program he created with a mission to provide a platform for service of healing via music to those health care workers who have and continue to serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many have referred to the spring and summer of 2020 as the ‘War on COVID-19,’ and those supporting our safety and health care systems have risen to the occasion in ways many have not expected,” Hirschberg says. “Frontline health care workers are dealing with stressful thoughts, less sleep, and worry; that affects well-being. Music can be a way to bring people together who’ve had common experiences, and our goal is to help facilitate some of that healing together, along with their personal journeys.”

In early August, Hirschberg reached out to health care providers on Blake 12, and four nurses participated in the song-making experience. Elizabeth Bedenbaugh, RN, Sophia McCarthy, RN, Julia Montalto, RN, and Vanessa Zottola, RN, worked with Hirschberg; Darden Smith, a professional songwriter in Austin, Texas; and Sharon Corbitt-House, in the recording industry in Nashville, Tennessee, to recall their experiences working with COVID-19 patients. Smith translated their stories into lyrics, cowriting a new song together. The result of that conversation is the song The Tears Are Coming Now.

“I went into this experience curious about what it was and what we'd be creating,” says Bedenbaugh. “I came out with a song that brought to life all the overwhelming emotions that came with the ‘War on COVID.’ But with the gentle unpacking of those experiences, something amazing happened ... healing. Now with this song, I have a tool to help me name the feelings, see the feelings, share the feelings and let them go.”

Hirschberg began this music collaboration as a healing tool for veterans with post-traumatic stress through his work at Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Mass General program, and as podcast host for Home Base Nation. A study of this experience showed that a personal songwriting session along with regular individual song exposure resulted in improved symptoms. With FrontlineSong, Hirschberg hopes to provide this opportunity to all frontline workers and first responders, as a go-to virtual place of healing to write songs with a professional guide.

“The songwriting experience helped me realize I was not alone in my struggle with the aftermath of COVID nursing, and it lifted a huge weight off my shoulders,” says Bedenbaugh. “All four of us wished more people could experience this. It was an amazing experience!”

The Tears Are Coming Now

Elizabeth Bedenbaugh, Vanessa Zottola, Sophia McCarthy, Julia Montalto, Darden Smith

There were nights that I never slept
Days just running through my mind
Burned out, scared and I couldn’t slow down
On call on guard all the time
I made a box to hold my fear
I stood on top that’s why I’m here

And the tears are coming now
In every tear that falls down
I’m looking for that sliver of light
In all this wrong something so right
I have to hold on be strong somehow
Cause the tears are coming now

Walking that floor in the ICU
I get up early and I stay up late
I do it for me, I do it for you
In the time of COVID I carry your weight
And the box in my heart
Got so full that it came apart

If I could ring a bell for every life we save
If I could sing a song for all that slipped away
It would be the hope to hold onto
The strength we need to make it through

© 2020 Darden Smith Music (ASCAP)