If a global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that music stops for nothing. And in fact, music has become more important than ever before. Over the last year and a half, our Connects artists have been focused on reaching even more people in hospital settings: both the patients and the healthcare workers who serve them. One of the teaching artists who has been integral to these initiatives is Nandani Sinha—known affectionately as Nani.
For over 10 years, this internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano has been working as one of our phenomenal Connects teaching artists. In that time, she’s managed to pioneer several programs that use music as medicine—and for good reason. She’s experienced first-hand the healing powers of opera and all it can do for someone in the throes of rehabilitation.
While she worked for Maestro Conlon, Nani helped Connects organize some of their programming for children. She started regaining her strength and rebuilding her voice, and got to a place where she was able to audition for the department, eventually getting cast in a performance of The Prospector (a kid-friendly opera based on Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West).
“I was one of the coyotes with Ashey Faatoalia and I just loved it. I’ve been with Connects ever since.”
Fast-forward to 2021 and Nani’s become a staple of the department, working on a number of programs that bring music to those who need it most. One of the programs that’s especially close to her heart is Music to Remember, an initiative that was created specifically for Alzheimer's patients.
“I've been very closely involved with a lot of Alzheimer's work for the past 10 years. My father had Alzheimer's and it was very, very, very difficult on the family. My father had Alzheimer's for about 15 years until he passed. The only way that he knew me was through music, otherwise he had no idea who I was. He was terrified of me. The only person who he really recognized was my mother. But if I sang to my dad, or if my mom played a video of me singing, my dad knew immediately who I was and that brought him calm and it brought him some peace.”
“I had been doing some work with Alzheimer's LA in different nursing homes and senior living communities, and Stacy asked me if I’d be interested in doing a similar program for LA Opera. So I said absolutely, and that’s how Music to Remember originally started.”
Since its kickoff in April 2020, Music to Remember has grown substantially. There’s a regular community of Alzheimer's patients at every show, and organizations like Able Arts LA and Kid’s Space frequent these performances too.
“We have all kinds of people who visit with us every week. We have regulars and we have drop-ins. We do an array of music from opera to art song, jazz to blues, hymns and country music, nursery rhymes, lullabies—every kind of song that I can build a session to is what we do.”
When the pandemic hit, Nani and the rest of the Connects team shifted the program to a new virtual format, ensuring they could still share music with those who need it most.
But that’s not the only way Nani uses music as medicine. Alongside another one of our Connects teaching artists, Charlie Kim, she leads a hospital bedside program at Rancho Los Amigos for individuals who have experienced traumatic brain injuries.
“We’re about three months into the program now. Charlie and I provide bedside concerts to patients in the hospital. We provide a song menu and tailor each performance to the individual’s specific tastes. There are people who are in their 20s and people who are 60 or 70, all experiencing a similar situation. It can be a really scary time for them, so we come in and sing and can see how they just relax and let the music wash over them.”
Nani is also involved in a brand-new program we have with UCLA Health that gives long haul COVID sufferers special workshops on operatic breathing techniques.
“I’m really excited to start working with these people who have been having a hard time just getting back into their body. I’m grateful to be able to help show them some useful mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises that help bring them some peace and calm and help restore their lung function.”
Most recently, Nani performed at Cedars Sinai for Healthcare Heroes Week, which was also her first live performance since the pandemic started.
“It was very special for me to be able to take part in that. We performed opera, spirituals, musical theater. We hit it all. It was a privilege to be able to give back in any way I can—to give healthcare workers a little comfort and hope after all they’ve been through, because they give us the same thing every day.”
As Los Angeles slowly edges back into something more closely resembling “normal,” Nani reflects on her major takeaway from the past 14 months.
“The big thing that we learned during the pandemic is that the arts are so crucial. I applaud LA Opera and LA Opera Connects for helping people free of charge and making that part of their mission to make sure that people are still connected to something that is so inherently human and letting me be a part of it.”
“My dad told me 'Whatever you do, just make sure it’s your job to leave the world a little bit of a better place than when you entered it.’ So all of these programs are my way of being able to do that.”