Who: Jeff Diller, a music therapy volunteer at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital and the Patrick O’Donnell Pavilion in Franklin County.
What: About six years ago, Jeff started playing his guitar for patients in their rooms in the Critical Care Unit at the hospital. He now plays in the main lobby of the hospital and at the entrance of the pavilion, which houses physician offices, a lab, imaging services, and an outpatient surgery center.
The 70-year-old retired United Church of Christ pastor plays tunes from Bach to the Beatles on his classical guitar made by Yulong Guo, a top Chinese guitar artist. Jeff selects pieces from three notebooks packed with a wide variety of music including hymns, spirituals, South American songs, and even a Renaissance song called “Packington’s Pound.”
“It’s one of the most popular tunes from the 1500s. Everyone was singing it back then,” he says with an understated sense of humor.
Words to live by: Jeff says his current spot in the lobbies of the hospital and the pavilion allow him to reach a wide variety of people who are headed to a visit with an ill loved one or to a medical test, procedure or physician appointment. He is grateful for the reaction he has gotten.
“I will have people come out of the lab and say, ‘Thank you for playing that music It helped me so much. I was so nervous about my test,’ ” he says.
Peg Bryner sees the impact. She volunteers at the information desk at the pavilion and watches as visitors listen to Jeff’s gentle guitar music. The pavilion has an atrium entrance, so Jeff’s music not only fills the lobby but also floats up to the second floor and the hallways there. “When someone comes out of an office and is feeling anxious, I imagine that the music hits them in a certain way and relaxes them,” Peg says. “That is my vision when I am listening to it.”
Peg also feels the power of Jeff’s music, which enables her to relax and extend additional patience and understanding to those who may be frustrated about being at the right place at the right time for an appointment.
Playing his guitar allows Jeff to be close to people. Some sit next to me and eat a snack or talk to him between songs. Others have a very emotional response.
He recalls playing the song “Simple Gifts” for a man who was dying, while his daughter listened and cried. “She said, ‘Oh that was my father’s favorite.’ We got to talk a little about what she was going through.”
He also got to know a hospital regular who had been a singer and a guitar player himself until a stroke impaired his abilities. “He would stop, and he could sing with me a little bit,” he says. “It was nice to be able to give him that opportunity.”
In fact, Jeff finds himself mirroring those who stop to listen to him play. The retired pastor is a natural for that role.
“People will stop and say, “Oh, I needed that,’ ” he says. “I will say, ‘It sounds like you are stressed out or upset.’ People are scared and not sure what the doctor will say to them. I just give them a chance to get their anxiety out. Music becomes the door for me to reach out to them and be there for them.”