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Mark Bernat, Project Art

  Mark Bernat
Mark Bernat, a professional musician trained at the Juilliard School of Music, is the new performing arts coordinator in University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics' Project Art program. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Music has been a positive factor throughout Mark Bernat’s life. The new performing arts coordinator in University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ Project Art program wants patients to feel that same feeling while receiving world-class care at the University’s health care complex.

Bernat, a professional musician trained at the Juilliard School of Music, has played with the Israel Philharmonic under renowned conductor Zubin Mehta, and was a professor of music at Oberlin Conservatory. He came to The University of Iowa with his wife, Amy Lee, who is an associate professor of physiology in the Carver College of Medicine, and is excited to bring new ideas to Project Art’s performing arts component, which was created to offer diversion and stimulation through music, dance, and theater.

Bernat spoke with fyi about his early gravitation toward music, his desire to relieve stress for all people associated with UI Hospitals and Clinics, and an enjoyable trip to a spot where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.

What is your own artistic background?

At a very young age, I began to have a physical reaction to any sort of repetitive rhythms, including our washing machine—that’s what my parents told me, anyway. At age 3, I graduated to the accordion, which was not so unusual, considering I was born in Poland. At about age 8, I started fooling around with a school bass, and at age 13, I was accepted into the High School of Performing Arts in New York City.

At around 16, I entered the Juilliard School of Music, and continued studying the bass seriously. At age 20 I auditioned for Zubin Mehta, which led to my engagement with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. I left the orchestra, and began playing more as a soloist, while keeping my day job as professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.

So it’s not a stretch to say you’ve always been in an arts environment, is it?

I can’t remember when music was not an integral part of my life. I always found it easier to express my feelings through music, rather than words.

The arts for me are one of the only means of letting ourselves connect as human beings to other human beings on many different levels. In the end, this ability to express feelings, share our innermost thoughts, is what makes us unique—human beings, not just animals.

What role do you see Project Art playing at UIHC? Do you have big changes in mind?

We all know that when we are in the hospital setting, our world has changed. The stress factor for both patients, visitors, and the wonderful people who take care of them is greatly elevated. The arts serve the purpose of entertaining, distracting, and allowing you a moment to relax and reflect. I have started to provide more performances for patients who can’t go to the atriums. We go inside the patient areas—room to room, if they invite us. I hope to be able to provide performers on a regular basis, whenever possible.

Another change will be in the creation of a faculty-staff orchestra. I have had a wonderful response to my call for musicians—we have more than 40 interested string players. I hope to get started soon. This would give faculty and staff an opportunity to get together in a relaxed atmosphere, meet colleagues from other departments, and make music together.

How important is an arts presence in health/medicine?

Even if we can bring a momentary relief from stress and anxiety, and, in general, make life a little more pleasant, it will result in better and quicker patient recovery time, and put the cargivers in a better state of mind.

Is it tough to work in an environment where illness and stress are commonplace?

I take comfort knowing that the fruits of my labor are a contributing factor in bettering life in the hospital for all who enter and hopefully leave.

You’ve been all over the world—does any particular experience stand out for you?

A trip to Jordan, where we visited Petra. This is an ancient city carved out of rock. Getting to the sights required extremely risky climbing by foot, or getting a donkey ride to the top. We walked. We went to Wadi Rum, which is a spectacularly picturesque desert—this is where the movie Lawrence of Arabia was shot.

by Christopher Clair

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