Written by Karen Gellender, email@example.com Friday, 07 December 2012 00:00
It all started with a dusty piano. Nikki Egna, a student at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, was visiting Sands Point Nursing Home with her synagogue when she couldn’t help but notice it. “I saw a piano in the corner of the room that looked really dusty,” she said. “I thought it was a shame that no one had been putting it to use.”
Egna decided to sit down at the piano and provide some music for the residents herself. What started off as a whim became much more when she saw how everyone around her reacted to the music. “I just saw how happy the residents became when they started hearing my piano,” she said.
Realizing that she was onto something, Egna began the process to set up a musical outreach program for nursing homes at her school, but there was a problem: clubs need advisors, advisors need to be paid, and the club would entail frequent trips that would require chaperones as well. While everyone agreed that it was a lovely idea, financially Piano for Patients looked like a non-starter.
Not easily dissuaded, Egna decided to set up an organization outside of the school, and was pleased to find that many students were willing to join her. Today, there are 35 student musicians in the Port Washington chapter alone, and 75 in the organization overall. The organization has already spawned a Jericho/North Woodmere chapter, and is looking to expand into Syosset and Manhasset shortly.
Piano for Patients visits to the Sands Point Nursing Home for one hour, once a month; the Jericho/North Woodmere chapter visits The Arbors Assisted Living Community in Jericho. What do they play? Anything the audience enjoys, said Egna, although they mainly stick to upbeat tunes.
“Most people think that they would appreciate classical music the most, but I’ve found they respond to upbeat, positive rock and roll and jazz,” said Egna. Some audience favorites include Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and “Moon River,” from the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Most of the students play instrumental solos, however some are willing to put in the work outside of the shows to coordinate duets together. The group has boasted flute duets, violin/piano duets, and even a piano/piano duet. Sometimes the students sing as well.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of the residents who enjoy listening to the students play are former musicians themselves. Many used to play piano, Egna says, but have told her they can no longer play because it hurts their fingers. “They think it’s just so nice that we’re bringing back the sound that they once loved,” said the high school senior with pride.
In addition to keeping up the regular performances, Piano for Patients has more on the horizon: the group will now award a $1,500 scholarship at the end of the year for the most devoted member of each chapter. The board of directors, made up of local business executives, as well as Egna, will review applications and choose the recipient together. The organization is currently pending status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, so those who wish to donate to the scholarship fund should be able to do so.
After finding a great chapter leader in Coe Lee of Jericho, Egna is currently looking for chapter leaders for new areas, utilizing both social media and word of mouth. She hopes to have a total of 10 Piano for Patients chapters in operation, sharing their music, by the end of the academic year. “We set our standards high,” she says.
With Egna and her team on the move, watch out for any dusty pianos in your neighborhood—they may be back in use very soon. For more information, visit www.pianoforpatients.org.