The sound of music
Most days, music fills the UF Health Shands Hospital Atrium, emanating from an elegant Young Chang piano. Situated in front of the Arts in Medicine Healing Wall, the piano has been a staple of the hospital, delighting patients, visitors and staff for 20 years.
From time-to-time the woman who hand-picked the beloved piano can be found seated at its bench, smiling at people walking by while her fingers float over the keys.
“I used to count the smiles of people who hear the music,” said Cathy DeWitt, UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine musician-in-residence. “They might be tense and nervous about whatever situation they’re dealing with, but then they see the piano, hear the music and stop and smile.”
DeWitt joined the UF Health Shands AIM program more than two decades ago. AIM focuses on transforming the hospital environment through a variety of visual and performing art disciplines. At the time, there was a music series but no piano.
On the program’s behalf, DeWitt wrote a letter to the Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, asking for a grant to buy a piano. When a check came in the mail, DeWitt headed to a local music store.
“I chose this one because it’s user-friendly and big enough to produce a nice sound, but not so big that it’s overwhelming,” she said.
She was the first pianist to play in the hospital Atrium but soon began gathering other volunteer musicians. Now, there are musicians at the piano almost every afternoon, entertaining patients, visitors and staff with soothing melodies.
Ferol Carytsas, UF Health Shands AIM volunteer coordinator, helps screen volunteers and schedule their performances. Currently, there are six pianists.
“What’s unique about performing in a hospital setting is that it requires heightened awareness and sensitivity of the atmosphere,” Carytsas said. “You can’t just sit at the piano with your head down; you have to be aware of your environment.”
AIM volunteer pianists are encouraged to interact with people around them. After 20 years, DeWitt is an expert at engaging hospital visitors and patients.
“If I see someone really enjoying the music, I’ll smile and ask if they have any favorite songs,” said DeWitt. “If someone brings their little kid, I’ll start playing children’s music.”
The piano has what DeWitt likes to call a ripple effect. Often, in other areas of the hospital, she hears someone whistling or humming a song that was played on the piano hours earlier.
AIM also has a piano in the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital lobby and schedules musical performances there.
“Music is an amazingly powerful thing,” DeWitt said. “The piano is a welcome distraction for people going through a difficult time.”
To learn more about UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine, visit artsinmedicine.UFHealth.org.