Piano as canvas, and respite

No one brings on the fun like the folks in the Child Life Program at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center. Superhero window washers, the Twins Caravan, Elmo, just to name a few. Of course, it's all for the kids. And in this case, it's a chance to distract them from what can be a difficult and tedious time in the hospital. And what could be more colorful and fun than … a piano. (And don't say piano lessons, because we know that isn't so.)

ellenproject760Now, a piano might not seem like an obvious choice to give a bunch of those kids a welcome distraction. At least not one that lasts more than a couple minutes and spares the eardrums of passersby. But The Ellen Project is making a slightly different kind of music, giving kids a chance to paint a piano (like Paint-Your-Plate, but bigger, and with keys), before bringing a welcome serenade to hospital rooms.

The idea for The Ellen Project came from a hospital setting. And kids. Ellen is a young girl whose younger sister, Molly, is fighting leukemia. The two are close, and "constantly thankful for the time they can spend together," according to the Ellen Project website. So when Ellen got a chance to paint a piano through a Keys 4/4 Kids program, she wanted her sister to have a similar opportunity. So the two helped organize an event at the Minneapolis Children's Hospital, where Molly was being treated. That experience sparked The Ellen Project, which came to the Mayo Clinic Children's Center on Feb. 13.

"Having the Ellen Project as our guests allowed for a morning full of play, expression, and making the hospital a more normal place for our pediatric patients and their families," says Katie Ausen, a Mayo child life specialist. "The idea behind doing special events like this is to allow the children hospitalized here to have something fun to do, and allow the families to escape from the demands of hospitalization, even if it is just for a short time."

The playroom was packed with patients, siblings, families and friends, Ausen tells us. And the enthusiasm spread to anyone who passed the playroom where the kids were practicing their art.

But her favorite moment, she says, was when the piano came to the room of a 5-year-old boy who was "feeling very sick and wasn't his usual smiley self," Ausen says. He had been able to participate by painting a piano key in his room, and the key was put back on the piano before the concert in the playroom and mini-concerts in hospital rooms of the kids who couldn't join the larger group.

"When we wheeled the piano into his room (not an easy task considering the size of the piano) and the pianist began to play and sing, this little boy smiled, opened his eyes slightly, and looked as though a sense of peace came over him. His mother began to cry, and all of us in the room were incredibly moved by what the power of art and music had done for this sick boy," she says.

And that, we think we can all agree, is the sweetest music.

Watch the video below and then paint us a picture with your comments.