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Bill Emerson has been playing the Steinway at DHMC for 10 years.
Photo: Flying Squirrel Graphics

Music has a grand effect at DHMC

Patients who walk into DHMC for appointments may be met by the strains of Debussy's "Claire de Lune," Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves," or Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Edelweiss." That's just a sampling of the music played each day on the mahogany Steinway grand that sits in DHMC's main rotunda. Nine volunteers play the piano on a regular basis. William Emerson (pictured above) has been one of those volunteers for 10 years. "It is a lovely instrument," he says. "You get a following playing for so long."

The piano was given to DHMC by James Walker and his family in memory of Walker's wife, Christine, who died of breast cancer in 1992, and in appreciation of the DHMC oncology staff who cared for her. During Christine Walker's illness, her nephew, a pianist and the owner of a record company, played for her in the DHMC oncology unit on an old upright wheeled in for the occasion. "It was unbelievable to see patients who hadn't been out of their beds . . . walking down the hall with their IV poles to listen to the music," recalls Jim Walker.

After his wife's death, he and his family had Steinway custom build a piano for DHMC. It was dedicated at a 1993 concert that featured excerpts from Schubert's German Mass and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed by the St. Mary's Choir of Long Island, where the Walkers lived. The piano was rededicated in a 10th-anniversary concert this past June during the activities of National Cancer Survivors Day.

Jim Walker says that the effect of the gift has far exceeded his family's expectations. In addition to the regular volunteer pianists, patients often come down to the rotunda to play. "I get two or three letters a year from people who have played," Walker says. A book is also kept at the rotunda information desk, in which players can record their impressions and feelings. Wrote one: "Playing at DHMC is healing, not only for those who listen and stop by, but for the pianist!"


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