The OHSU Doernbecher lobby is a busy place. It’s where visitors and employees go to fuel up on coffee, where colleagues convene, where students study and, often, where families and friends meet to talk, to hope, to cry, to get a moment of peace.
If you’ve been in our lobby in the last 11 years, you might already know volunteer Gloria Libby. She sits, focused, at the piano, where she plays music for the benefit of all who pass through our hospital. Unless you happen to spot Gloria’s white cane, you’d never know she’s unable to see sheet music or even the piano keys (though she does have the ability to detect light and shadows). When she was just 2 weeks old, a cerebral hemorrhage left Gloria blind.
We sat down with Gloria to ask her a few questions about the healing power of music at Doernbecher.
How long have you been playing the piano?
Well, my mother says I started when I was 5, but I don’t remember playing until I was 6 or 7 years old. I went to residential schools for the blind all 12 years of my education. That’s where I took piano lessons!
What kind of music do you enjoy?
I’m classically trained, so I like to simplify and play some classics. I play a lot of hymns and I like to play oldies – songs for baby boomers and before. I also love listening to Celtic music.
Why did you choose to volunteer at Doernbecher?
[I was already connected to OHSU in a way because] my husband had a job in employee health at OHSU. Initially I reached out because I wanted to volunteer to rock babies in the NICU. I ended up playing the piano at Doernbecher instead and have been doing so for about 11 years now – it’s a special way to reach out to people. I also play at church and at the retirement home where I live.
What’s your favorite part about volunteering at Doernbecher?
I love the people here. I kind of like to hide behind the piano a bit, but I can still be social! I especially like it when parents bring children to me to say hello. And, of course, I love visits from the animal-assisted therapy teams, including Sallie and Beau!
How do you think music helps calm and heal Doernbecher’s passersby?
What I’m doing at Doernbecher just feels right. I think there’s a lot of unease at any hospital. There’s trauma going on; there’s life and death going on. Students, too, are learning to face these issues and I think music really helps.
Thank you for sharing your time and your music with us, Gloria!