Jon Mark Beilue: Music as Artistic Medicine

Music as Artistic Medicine

WTAMU alumnus Tambuwan provides own therapy at Johns Hopkins


When Miseal Tambuwan brings his keyboard into a patient’s room or sits down for a few songs for a staff of nurses and doctors at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, it can take him back to a time some 1,600 miles away at West Texas A&M University.

It was there the music composition student from Indonesia played for senior living adults at the Craig in Amarillo and at two or three other assisted living centers.Miseal Tambuwan

“That’s one of the reasons I applied for this job,” Tambuwan said. “What I found is playing this music is soothing for me, too. And from the audience feedback I got then and get now, it’s hard to get that kind anywhere else.”

Tambuwan’s musical journey has taken him to places he may never have imagined when growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city with a population of three million. But the pursuit and love of music has taken him halfway around the world to Canyon, Texas, and from there to the East Coast and even into hospital patient rooms.

It is not a straight line from Indonesia to West Texas A&M University, but for Tambuwan, it wasn’t all that crooked either. WTAMU had an education fair in Jakarta where the University promoted a scholarship program for international music students.

That piqued Tambuwan’s interest, and he auditioned for the piano scholarship in Kenya. When he got word that the scholarship was his, Tambuwan headed 15,650 miles to Canyon.

“It just wasn’t culture shock,” he said, “but an incredible shock.”

But Tambuwan persevered. He graduated in May 2017 with a degree in music composition and a minor in piano performance. His junior year he studied abroad in the Georgia Republic and in Italy.

But at WTAMU, he immersed himself into his music and American/Texas culture. Tambuwan learned the finer qualities of Whataburger dining. Fluent now in English, he described his grasp of the language at “5 percent” when he arrived in the fall of 2012.

But he also took advantage of almost any music opportunity that came his way. In class, he was guided by professors Dr. Benjamin Brooks and Dr. Choong-la Nam.

“WT has a very well maintained syllabus and curriculum. The teachers are very helpful and professional and the opportunities are always there,” Tambuwan said.

He played with the WTAMU jazz band and pop ensemble. He entertained at senior living centers in Amarillo and Canyon.  Workshops, concerts and recitals, Tambuwan was seemingly everywhere. He was appointed Amarillo College’s music director for their musicals in the spring of 2017.

“A fantastic experience,” he said.

With that undergraduate background, he was accepted into the Johns Hopkins Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where he will get his master's in music composition in May 2019.

Like at WTAMU, Tambuwan was looking for opportunities and ways to stretch himself and his music. He found it when, out of 10 who applied, Tambuwan was one of two selected for a pilot program, Musicians on Call.

It is one of several initiatives at the Center for Music and Medicine at Johns Hopkins, a collaboration between the Peabody Institute and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Tambuwan and oboist Sophia Lou play separately for patients in their rooms. It’s music therapy where studies have shown music can aid emotionally and even physically in recovery.

“We have received very positive response,” said Dr. Sarah Hoover, co-director of the Center for Music and Medicine. “We’ve seen a number of different ways in which people express their appreciation. In feedback, we get comments like, ‘Thank you!’ ‘Please Come Back!’ and ‘My Favorite Time Of The Week Is When You Are Here!’”

Miseal Tambuwan with patientTambuwan plays for patients and occasionally for staff in the comprehensive transplant and in-patient maternity units. He moves his keyboard to rooms of patients who request his music. He does this two to three times a week, and three to four hours at a time.

He will bring his keyboard into rooms for as few as eight to 10 on a shift and as many as 30 to 35. Tambuwan will play three to four songs, often requests.

Though trained as a classical musician, he must play genres that include jazz, pop, blues, Christian and gospel. This time of the year, he better be ready for Christmas and holiday music.

“My range is from Bach to Lady Gaga,” he said. “Only one or two times can I not fill a request, and that’s usually something super old from the 1950s and 1960s.”

Tambuwan knows when he enters a room that his time there is to spread a brief respite of happiness in what can sometimes be a gloomy time.

“I like to clear their mind from their anxiety and nerves,” he said. “If I can get them to relax, enjoy the moment and the music, then I have succeeded.”

One woman in the maternity unit began to grill Tambuwan on his musical background. She said she was a former conservatory student too in New York. Tambuwan engaged her about her talents, when she sang and if she sang professionally.

“I have to go to another patient’s room,” Tambuwan told her, “but when I come back, tell me what you want me to sing and I’ll play it for you.”

She mentioned some music by Puccini. She was skeptical that Tambuwan could play it, but when he returned, play it he did. The woman, on extended bed rest, got on her feet, and stepped into the hallway to sing. Patients in the hallway clapped loudly.

“Now that’s an extreme example,” Hoover said, “but a patient was so engaged and motivated by music that she reconnected with a part of who she is. We’re really finding on anecdotal and small levels that this offers folks the opportunity to connect with something beyond what happened to them or reconnect them to an important part of their lives.”

For Tambuwan, whose skills were sharpened at WTAMU, he brings to the Musicians on Call program performance experience and a composer’s mind. He has high artistic standards that are not sacrificed because of the environment. And he brings a personality that combines with a passion.

“Misael is communicative and warm,” Hoover said. “He’s funny, personable and very disarming. That quality of disarming really helps. He comes into an environment that’s maybe fearful and distrustful, maybe lonely, and he comes in like a big ball of sunshine and that really really helps.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at

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