Noah Waddell performs at HealthPark Hospital.
Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) - As his fingers float across the keys, smiles widen and jaws drop in HealthPark Medical Center's atrium.
Fort Myers resident Noah Waddell is just 12, but his talent for playing piano reaches far beyond his age, and one he shares with the hospital's doctors, patients and visitors on Fridays as part of the Arts in Healthcare program.
His parents, Barry, a real estate broker, and Anita, a former teacher, were equally as surprised at their son's talent as most people who walk by and do a double take when they see the boy at the piano.
He gets so into the music at times that his body lifts from the bench as he reaches a crescendo.
Noah said he loves playing at the hospital, easing the heartbreak and stress of sometimes long, overwhelming days for patients and staff. They'll pull up a chair and let concertos by Bach and Mozart (also the names of Noah's dogs) take them away.
"Some people stop and say thank you," he said.
The Society for the Arts in Healthcare said music therapy at hospitals promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Lee Memorial Health System started its program in 1997, and it now includes close to 60 artists and musicians that perform at each hospital campus.
Doug MacGregor, Arts in Healthcare coordinator for Lee Memorial Health System, said music is a big part of the program.
"They're (the atrium pianists) playing from memory and they can't see around them, but I tell them to play as if someone needed them right then and there," he said.
MacGregor said Noah brought some comfort to the parents of an 11-year-old boy who wasn't expected to live much longer. "His parents were overwhelmed with grief ... and the mother came out to the atrium and saw Noah playing. She saw he was about the same age as her son and she was overcome with relief. Noah represented something that was special at the moment. It gave her comfort."
On a recent Friday, he played some Debussy and Chopin, earning applause and hoots of appreciation from across the atrium's four floors.
Barry Waddell said Noah's weekly sessions began after visiting a friend at the hospital. The unoccupied piano caught Noah's eye and he wanted to play. A sign stated that anyone was welcome to, but they would need to sign up at the visitors' desk first.
"I'm sure they were expecting him to play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,'" Barry said. But when Noah began to play, the atrium - and its floors to the top - began to fill with people wondering who was playing such beautiful music.
Noah's gift for music was discovered at age 7, when his family bought a piano on a whim for educational purposes. Little did they know it would set off a whirlwind affair that would take them to competitions across the country - most of which Noah has won. His most recent award was overall winner at the Florida Federation of Music Clubs annual competition, where 2,000 people competed.
In mid-May, while one of eight pianists selected for a two-week program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he caught the eye of The Juilliard School and was given a scholarship to attend the prestigious New York City school's summer program.
Noah practices for three hours each day, squeezing in some tennis and basketball when he can. His older sister Alexia also plays piano and gives lessons. It was assumed Noah, who is home-schooled, would follow in his dad's footsteps and play professional tennis, but it seems he was born to play piano, a talent MacGregor called a gift for the Arts in Healthcare program. While Noah isn't old enough to volunteer at the hospital, he was brought in as a guest.
"He's remarkable, and he has quite a following. We're blessed to have him."
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