This article was written by Marvin T. Anderson and originally appeared in the Roanoke Times.
The Roanoke Valley's Ronald McDonald House, filled with couples who recently had their first child, was silent on the evening of Feb. 5. "Unfortunately, that means the parents must have stayed in the hospital later," said Gary Hunt, a volunteer at the house. "The children may not be well." The Ronald McDonald House is a charitable organization for families of children with medical needs who travel to Roanoke for treatment.
The silence didn't stop guitarists Bradford Archer and Donna Pearson from playing music. With guitar cases covered in bumper stickers, the two played songs they had composed. "Sometimes they will hear the music and come down," Hunt said as he listened to the two perform "Rain on Me," a song written by Pearson.
Hunt walked around the house while the couple played and stopped near a board with pictures of children from families that stayed in the 18-bedroom house.
Each child's weight was listed along with his or her picture. One child was listed as 1 pound, 5 ounces, another as 1 pound, 12 ounces, next to pictures of the children smiling, sleeping and others breathing through tubes as they lay in their hospital cribs.
Not everyone in the house comes in relation to a premature birth, Hunt said. The health complications run the gamut. But Hunt said he saw a need to provide an escape for the residents and began the biweekly concerts three years ago to help residents. "This is a form of healing," Hunt said about the music.
Hunt invites musicians from around the Roanoke Valley to perform at no charge. He said he is always in need of more musicians to perform. Children and adults with all different levels of proficiency have played for residents. Archer said expertise isn't as important as providing an escape for the residents. "This is better than therapy," Archer said as he touched his guitar.
During another weekly concert, more residents attended the performance by Michelle Belton and Todd Basham, who sounds similar to Johnny Cash. "I know you like country music," Belton said to a resident who was wearing a West Virginia shirt. He said no and that his girlfriend makes him wear the shirt.
The two played country music for most of the night including "Happy Hour's Over," a song Belton wrote about looking for a man and wanting a relationship."That's the story of my life, honey," a resident called out from a corner as she sang.
Ronald McDonald House resident Ashley Robertson listened to the couple with her fist in her lap and one hand over her forehead. She said thoughts of her newborn daughter, born at 29 weeks, raced through her head. She smiled occasionally as the music played and slowly closed her eyes as she rubbed her head.
"I think it was really nice for them to come and do something," she said as she left for her room. "That's why I come and I listen."
"When I'm here (at the Ronald McDonald house), I feel lonely and bored," said the Danville resident. "But when people are here that I can talk to, I feel better."
Contact Companion Home Care Inc of Roanoke, VA