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Warmed by music: Evening pianist greets team members, visitors at BroMenn

Warmed by music: Evening pianist greets team members, visitors at BroMenn
Snow had fallen and temperatures dropped on a recent Tuesday night outside Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal.

Inside, weary team members were leaving for the day as nurses arrived for their 7 p.m. shifts after enduring the cold and snow. All were greeted with music as they walked through the atrium.

And they smiled.

To the volunteer playing the piano, when told about his music uplifting Carle Health team members at night, he felt valued. As he reflected, he realized it wasn’t the first time his piano playing positively impacted visitors, team members and other volunteers. Not a bad experience for an 18-year-old high school senior who just wanted a quiet place to play music for other people without calling attention to himself.

“I never thought people would be uplifted by my music,” Renny Alex, a senior at Normal Community High School, said. “Hearing that my music has made other people smile makes me feel good.”

Alex isn’t alone. Fifteen volunteers take shifts playing the conservatory baby grand piano in the BroMenn atrium as part of the hospital’s atrium music program, Sue Seibring, Carle BroMenn manager of Volunteer Services, said. Alex is the sole, nighttime volunteer, playing from 6-7 p.m. Tuesdays.

Ironically, he took an evening shift beginning in mid-October, figuring there would be fewer people around.

"I thought ‘6 to 7 p.m. would be pretty empty,’” Alex recalled. “I can perform with minimal expectations.”

Alex said his mother encouraged him to play piano for other people. A friend, who already volunteered at BroMenn in another capacity, said he’d heard music in the atrium and referred Alex to Seibring.

Piano music has been provided in the BroMenn atrium since 2009 and the first two pianos were donated from people’s homes, Seibring said. The conservatory baby grand was purchased in 2012 following fundraising led by Dory Jarzabkowski, DO, cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute.

“The purpose is to provide a calming and pleasant environment for families waiting, patients, physicians and staff experiencing stressful situations,” Seibring said. “Of course, the volunteers love listening to the music as well.

“We ask the music to be played softly and to be cheerful and calming.” Hymns, classical music and tunes from musicals are played frequently.

Alex said he plays pretty and whimsical classical music or music from movie soundtracks that people can actively listen to or serve as background music.

“I love the music being played in the atrium,” Kristi McCoy, RN, BSN, BroMenn clinical coordinator/patient placement coordinator, said. “It seems to be a welcome distraction for our families who are waiting on their loved ones. It is also a beautiful thing to hear as you enter the hospital. Music can provide healing properties. I think our patients, family members and staff can all feel comforted by it.”

Regarding the evening music specifically, McCoy said it provides a serene atmosphere. “I appreciate being able to end my shift and listen to something that is beautiful and peaceful,” she said. “Throughout the day, we are often inundated with various stimuli and, unfortunately, some that are unpleasant. The music can aid in helping our mental health and help to relieve some of the stresses of the day.”

Alex hadn’t reflected, until recently, on how his music affected others. From time to time, a visitor or team member will give him a thumbs-up, ask him to name the song he is playing or encourage him to continue his piano playing.

“One person said something I played reminded her of her days as a ballerina,” Alex said. Two other women recently told him that they enjoyed listening to his playing and encouraged him to continue.

“They were listening to me around the corner and I didn’t know,” Alex said.

“It’s pretty quiet around here at night. I’ve realized, ‘Oh, people are actually listening.’ Those comments make me feel that I’m doing something impactful, that it makes a difference,” he said.

The positive experience at BroMenn has convinced Alex to want to continue volunteering his talents at a long-term care facility or another hospital while he is away at college.

“I not only enjoy the music, it’s the interactions I have with people as a result of the music,” Alex said. “The lesson is trying things can take you to places you don’t expect,” Alex said. “You can see a value in things – a value that you don’t originally see.”

People interested in more information about Carle Health volunteer opportunities may click here. For information about the Creative Arts Music Program at Carle Foundation Hospital, click here. For volunteer opportunities at BroMenn specifically, email or call (309) 268-5397.

Categories: Community

Tags: BroMenn, Music, Philanthropy, Piano, Volunteer, winter