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The Power of Volunteering

Inspire yourself with the story of how one entrepreneur’s nonprofit fuels his creativity

Vivek Tiwary speaks onstage at the 2014 Musicians On Call celebration in New York City,
Vivek Tiwary speaks onstage at the 2014 Musicians On Call celebration in New York City, ,

by Sarah Mahoney

Well-Being
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When it comes to cool careers, it’s hard to top an entrepreneur like Vivek J. Tiwary. Over the years, the 41-year-old producer has won Tony awards, working on stage hits like A Raisin in the Sun and American Idiot. And his latest project is a smash: He wrote The Fifth Beatle, a best-selling graphic novel about Brian Epstein, and is working on the film version.

But turns out that what really fuels his creative efforts is Musicians On Call, a nonprofit he started 15 years ago that brings musicians to the bedside of hospital patients. He tells Life Reimagined how that venture has been a constant star in his changing career.

What led you to start Musicians on Call?

Tiwary: I was just starting in my career, and lost my mother to cancer. We were lucky, because we were able to send her to the best doctors, and fantastic medical facilities. But her end of days was still pretty grim. I wanted to do something constructive. I had lost my dad a few years before that, and I wanted to create some light out of the darkness. My friend, Michael Solomon, had recently lost his girlfriend, and set up a fund for her. So he knew about the business end, and said, “When you are ready, I will help you.”

We were both struggling to start our careers, and both working with bands. So we started bringing them into the lobby of a New York hospital. One night, a nurse said, “That was lovely. Too bad so many patients are too sick to come down to the lobby.” So we took the musicians up to see them, and you could feel the atmosphere lighten in those rooms. People smiled and relaxed.

As we were leaving, one of the musicians turned to me and said, “That was the most powerful and rewarding musical experience of my life.” We knew we were on to something.

What next?

Tiwary: We started writing the business plan. We thought, “This has to happen, and why shouldn’t we be the ones to start it?” Now, we are truly a national organization, bringing live and recorded music to people in healthcare facilities. Since 1999, we’ve done it more than a half million times.

How do you balance your work with MOC with your other projects, and your family?

Tiwary: It’s not difficult. MOC is the single thing in my career that I am most proud of, and it doesn't feel like a difficult thing to juggle, because it is joyful. And it is very fulfilling, personally. I know it helps people, but I won’t lie—I get more out of it than they do. I love my other work, too, but really, who cares if a given show wins a Tony, or breaks even? What MOC does, that makes a difference.

People often accuse show-biz types of being self-obsessed. Is MOC an antidote to that?

Tiwary: I guess there is some truth to the stereotype of entertainers being selfish, but not in the circles I move in. People in the arts can be very generous, and I’m proud that so many musicians—people like Bruce Springsteen and Britney Spears—have worked with us. In fact, MOC is kind of my reminder when I am working with people, and a bit of a boundary check. If they don’t care about MOC, I shouldn’t be working with them.

In a given week, how much time do you spend on MOC?

Tiwary: I’m on the board, so yes, it takes some time, a certain number of hours each week. But I don’t mind, even when another project is really demanding. This is my baby. And there’s a president, and an active staff. So I feel like I have reached that place my hands are as far off the steering wheel as I’m willing to get.

What advice would you give someone who hasn’t found a volunteer passion yet?

Tiwary: Find something that speaks to you, that you are passionate about, and start there. If you love spending time with your kids, is there something you can do nurturing teenagers? Once you find an area that interests you, you’ll be shocked at how many existing organizations there are. And if not, start your own. It’s not that hard.

Photo credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty for Musicians on Call.