As Jack Ramsey sat in Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s Grand Lobby
playing piano, a woman in a wheelchair and her companion stopped to listen.
The companion asked if Ramsey could play “You Are My Sunshine,”
the woman’s favorite song. Ramsey, who often performs by ear, was
happy to oblige. As he played, he saw that the woman in the wheelchair
had tears in her eyes.
“Sometimes songs can bring tears of sadness,” he says. “Other
times they bring tears of joy. It warms my heart to know I’m connecting
Ramsey is one of more than 60 musicians who volunteer their time as part
of Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s Piano Volunteer Program, to
brighten the days of those who visit, receive care and work at the medical center.
The program started in 2000, when former Palos Verdes Peninsula residents
Dr. and Mrs. Warren Hoffman donated a piano. Today volunteers perform
in both the Lundquist Tower’s Grand Lobby and the North Lobby of
the Transitional Care Unit. In a typical week, music can be heard in both
locations for eight or more hours on weekends and about six hours on weekdays.
Dan Platus saw an article in the local newspaper seeking volunteers, soon
after Torrance Memorial received the piano donation. He has been playing
there ever since.
“I’m retired, and I enjoy doing it,” says Platus, an
engineer-scientist who worked for more than three decades at The Aerospace
Corporation in El Segundo and has numerous publications and patents to
his credit. “Music can be very therapeutic.”
Platus felt strongly enough about the Piano Volunteer program that he has
served as its chair for about the last 15 years. In addition to playing
twice a week, he coordinates the schedule for the many volunteers who
share their musical talents. Platus also auditions every prospective pianist
to ensure he or she has suitable skills. Volunteers must commit to playing
at least one hour per week for a year’s time.
Based on their tenure, the volunteers seem to enjoy their work. Many have
been playing at the Medical Center for more than 14 years. Pianist Paula
DiFiore has been with the program since its inception.
Many volunteer pianists are retirees like Ramsey, who worked as a teacher
and administrator for 32 years. Others are high school on evenings or
weekends. Rachelle Gonzales began volunteering during her junior year
at Torrance High School. She initially volunteered for the Escort Services
Program and was encouraged to use her musical talents to benefit others.
“The powerful thing for me is the reactions I get from people who
listen,” she says. “One time when I was playing in the Transitional
Care Unit, a female patient, her adult son and her granddaughter were
listening. The son asked if I could play “You Raise Me Up,”
by Josh Groban. He sang along, and it was fantastic. His mom teared up
and said, ‘That made me feel so much better.’” Gonzales
took time off from volunteering while attending UCLA, where she majored
in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. She returned to playing
at Torrance Memorial after graduating and is currently applying to medical school.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor for a long time, and this experience
was pivotal for me because it shaped the kind of doctor I’d like
to be,” Gonzales says. “It’s taught me that medicine
is about caring for the whole person. It’s taught me the importance
of actively lis- tening to the patient and making sure not only their
physical needs but their spiritual and mental needs are also fulfilled."
Gonzales adds, and her fellow piano volunteers can attest, “There
is a musical dimension to healing.”
For more information about the Piano Volunteer Program, call 310-517-4752.