The busy lobby of a hospital can be a stressful place as medical staff crosses paths with patients – some happy, some not – coming and going for tests and care. Patients’ friends and families add to the mix.
The main entrance at NCH Healthcare System’s Baker Downtown Naples campus is going an extra mile to relax everyone. Not only is there a greeter, Peter Fisfis, famous for spreading good cheer, but a café with aromas of fresh coffee and muffins, and an outdoor garden for strolling nearby.
Now add soothing, live music. The tunes come from a donated piano – “a Christmas miracle,” says Director of Guest Relations Amanda Smith – that plays programmed music when volunteers are not at the keyboard. Actual staff members “with many hidden talents” will pop in for an impromptu mini-concert to entertain and let off steam, Amanda shares.
Other music comes from violinists or singers in the fledgling program, which was welcoming 72 high school musicians during the summer at NCH Naples and North Naples hospitals. To Smith, the melodies are a form of music therapy, which research has shown to lower blood pressure, ease anxiety, reduce pain and spread happiness. An apt sign next to musicians informs “Music Is Healing.”
“In highly stressful environments, such as a hospital or medical settings, music can provide respite for patients, caregivers, loved ones and staff in a casual setting through live performance,” confirms one authority, Devan Elliott, a licensed music therapist at Moorings Park in Naples. “Placing live music in an anxiety inducing environment can allow opportunities of rest and mindfulness.”
Fisfis – nicknamed Peter the Greeter – says he can observe listeners moving to the music. “People thank us all the time,” he says, for renditions of classical music, standards, jazz and show tunes.
A nice moment took place one morning in June as volunteer Vivian Aiello played a tune unexpected from a violin, “Crazy.” A random passerby called out “Patsy Cline.” He was gone before Aiello could ask aloud who wrote it (Willie Nelson).
Another nice moment came when she was playing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in December. The tune prompted an elder listener to shed tears as he tapped Smith, seated nearby, on the shoulder. He said his mother would play the song in memory of his late father. That day his wife was in surgery and he needed a break from the waiting room. The music gave him hope and faith, he told Smith.
The NCH role, Aiello explains, “keeps me playing and I enjoy all the nice comments. My goal is for people to enjoy it.” Her view resonates with another local authority, Marissa Luizzi, manager of dementia respite activities at the Naples Senior Center. “Live music is a gift to all — those actively playing the music and those passively listening,” she says.
“Hospitals bring a variety of different stressors to a variety of different people, and live music is a wonderful way to briefly redirect those stressors into thoughts and perhaps feelings of joy and relaxation. I once saw and heard a child hack out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on a hospital lobby piano, and it brought the most laughter and happiness out of everyone. “I love and appreciate any musician who will share their talents of music with others, especially in a setting like a hospital lobby.”
Another of those musicians is Bev Ranstrom, coincidentally a retired health care administrator who has a special childhood piano memory: “Every time I went by a piano a little voice inside urged me to ‘go over and play it. ” Ranstrom calls the volunteer gig a blessing. “Musicians need a venue,” she says. “Volunteering at NCH gives me an opportunity to play music just for the fun of playing. I also had a long career in healthcare quality and realized I missed the hospital environment where staff show up every day to make a real difference in people’s
She goes on: “I have had visitors, one with tears in her eyes, come over and thank me for playing. When people take the time to stop or say ‘thanks’ I feel that my playing may be worthwhile.” Jim Mahon, NCH senior vice president, sums it up. “Often overlooked but nonetheless very critical to the continuum of care is the healing power of music, art and prayer,” he says. “At NCH we are blessed with the continually growing number of talented musicians who are donating their time and talent.”