Jourdan Urbach: Saving Lives Through Music
By Keri Collins Lewis
Most school projects don’t alter the course of a student’s life, but Jourdan Urbach, from Long Island, New York, isn’t like most students. He’s a prodigy. His mother discovered his amazing musical talent when he was just 2 years old, and he began violin lessons before his third birthday. As if that wasn’t unusual enough, at age 7 Jourdan wrote to renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Fred Epstein after reading the doctor’s autobiography for a school assignment. Jourdan explains, “I was inspired by his compassion and innovations. I knew I wanted to study neuroscience and neurosurgery as an adult, because I believed the brain is medicine’s great frontier.” Dr. Epstein invited Jourdan to tour the pediatric intensive care unit at Beth Israel North Hospital, and he found his life’s work. Seeing children suffering from incurable diseases motivated Jourdan to help, and music became medicine.
Children Helping Children
At first, Jourdan performed at Beth Israel for patients in the playroom, or beside the beds of those too ill to leave their rooms. Inspired by the positive impact of his music on the sick kids, Jourdan invited other young musicians to join him, and soon they were producing monthly concerts at hospitals in the tristate area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut). In addition to his musical efforts, Jourdan began doing medical research in neuroscience when he was 9 years old, at Cold Springs Harbor Labs.
But he wanted to do more. He founded Children Helping Children (CHC), a nonprofit organization, and describes its mission: “to raise money for national medical organizations, surgery scholarship funds for the disenfranchised, home health care for those with advanced forms of neurological disease, and cutting-edge research targeting neurological disease globally.” How can a kid accomplish this? Through music. As a violin prodigy, Jourdan has studied at the renowned Juilliard School since he was 10, and became a famous and accomplished soloist, performing nationwide. “I am able to use my name as a headline performer to draw large audiences at major concert halls throughout the country to benefit worthy medical organizations.”
To date, CHC has raised more than $1.4 million to benefit such groups as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Children’s Hearing Institute, Cold Spring Harbor Labs, Institute for Music and Neurological Function, Beth Israel’s INN, and Mott Children’s Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House. In addition to his work with CHC, Jourdan has continued his medical research, winning the National DuPont Science Essay Award for his paper “The Role of Laminin in Myelination: Implications in MS” and gaining a research internship at Harvard Medical School.
The expression “violin prodigy” may lead people to believe Jourdan just plays violin all day, but that’s not the case. As a junior at Roslyn High School, he is taking five advanced placement courses on a compacted schedule, so he finishes school at 11:10 a.m. He then commutes to New York City for rehearsals or lessons at Juilliard, or for rehearsals with conductors for upcoming concerts. Evenings are reserved for homework. On Saturdays he returns to Juilliard, and on Sundays he takes care of CHC. “No one ever said it would be easy, and it’s not!” Jourdan says of his busy life.
One way Jourdan deals with his demanding lifestyle is a commitment to healthy living. “I am a vegetarian and have been since age 7.
I try to keep in shape by running and kayaking in the spring, summer, and fall, and playing tennis every week throughout the year,” he says. Considering Jourdan has been focused on health for more than half of his life, it’s no surprise he is alcohol-, drug-, and tobacco-free. “I don’t drink, do drugs, or smoke. I never have, and I never will. There are too many fascinating adventures and intellectual pursuits to have in life that would be hindered by using substances like these. They just have no place in my life.”
Concerts for a Cure
Jourdan’s latest passion is a drive to take CHC international: “As a concert violinist I am in an unusually visible public position to take an effective leadership role in creating a synergistic relationship between medicine and music. Music has the power through Concerts for a Cure to move people to pay attention to the plight of desperately ill children who need more than medication and proper hospital facilities—they need evidence that other kids are working on their behalf, uplifting the community through deeds, not words.” Rather than limit CHC’s outreach to the concerts he can give, Jourdan invites kids everywhere to join in a “youthquake”—a movement of young people organizing benefit concerts for medical charities. “My goal is to inspire and empower young philanthropists and musicians to join together to raze the neurological diseases of our time by presenting benefit Concerts for a Cure all across the globe—saving lives through music,” Jourdan says.
In El Salvador and Guatemala, student groups are working with Jourdan, to develop CHC’s first international satellites. To spread the message to more schools and hospitals, Jourdan has created a three-minute video to inspire others to make a difference in their communities. He believes CHC’s mission bridges the differences that exist between people: “It is one concept that people around the world can get behind without polarization—what could be less polarizing, and more inspiring, than music and saving lives?”
Looking to the Future
With a long list of awards, media appearances, and accomplishments on his résumé by the age of 16, it would be easy for Jourdan to take some time off, but that’s not his plan. He has faith that art can impact science through CHC and Concerts for a Cure, and he’s confident in his peers: “I believe some of the biggest strides in medicine can be made by our youth. I have seen that the humanity of charitable works is not something reserved for adulthood.”
To learn more about Jourdan Urbach and Children Helping Children, go to www.childrenhelpingchildren.net.