Playing Piano in a Hospital Lobby

Notes after one year of playing piano in a hospital lobby.

playing piano

I have been playing piano in a hospital lobby, at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, once or twice a week, for the last year. The experience has proven to be very rewarding, more than I imagined, and I want to share some of my favorite moments and memories here.

I volunteered to play after my mom was hospitalized for 9 days and I passed through the lobby there once or twice a day, where I saw a very nice grand piano. The one time that I heard it being played, I noticed the strong positive effect that the music had on me, in that place and time. I contacted the hospital’s Volunteer Office and did the same health and background screenings and training that all hospital volunteers have to do. I got my ID badge and was ready to start playing.

“You are calming my soul like you have no idea.”

I play in the late afternoon and early evening on Mondays, and sometimes on Sunday afternoons too. I play quiet music, that is appropriate for the lobby of a hospital, so that means gentle sounds, familiar standards, bossa novas, melodic popular music, an occasional hymn and a few classical pieces, but nothing too heavy or too loud. Most of the visitors are concerned about family members and friends whom they are visiting, and there are also patients, caregivers and other staff, who pass through the lobby at any time. I have to play music that is just right in that scene and situation.

Several times, people have come up to me to thank me for playing, and some of those moments have been very touching. It is very rewarding for me to hear someone say that they enjoyed hearing the music or that it provided some relief to them in that moment.

Once, there was a woman who was escorting her mother, a patient, through the lobby. Before leaving she stopped to tell me, “You are calming my soul like you have no idea.” That is one of the sweetest comments I have received but there have been many others like that. One gentleman sat nearby and listened for half an hour, then said to me, “Some people just play the piano, you transport me with music.” Another time, some people from a church choir asked me to play Amazing Grace, and they sang a verse with me, in their beautful voices.

Another patient came to hear me for two consecutive Mondays during his hospitalization and the second time he told me he was looking forward all week to hearing me again. These encounters are always very touching. The most moving time of all was when a family was grieving after having lost a family member. That day I simply could not play.

There have been some fun moments too, like the time there was an extended family hearing me from the ICU waiting area, which is located on a balcony just above where the piano is. As I was playing, they were looking at me and gesturing, then one of them came down to ask me what I was playing. He said that he had told his family up there that he thought it was a bossa nova by Jobim, and he was right, so he laughed and told me that he had just won a bet with them about what I was playing. Another time, a gentleman introduced himself and told me he was also a musician and he later sent me some of his music. Many times when children are present, they become interested in seeing the piano being played from up close. Once, there was a young boy who takes piano lessons and he played one piece for us very nicely. Once, I was asked if I could play for a private party, which I did.

When I first started playing there, I did not expect that I would have so many wonderful encounters with people, like the ones I have described here. I could say that my tip jar is my heart and the people fill it up for me every time, with their words or sometimes with a simple nod or gesture to say thanks. It means more to me to play there than it does to play anywhere else. If you ever have the experience of playing there too, I think you will understand the feelings I describe. 

I encourage anyone who plays the piano and who lives or works in or near Burbank, to consider volunteering at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, by contacting the Volunteer Office through their web page, here