Penny Anderson Brill: A Visit to St. Anna’s Hospital in Vienna

Today Associate Principal violist Tatjana Mead Chamis and Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley went to Sankt Anna-Kinderspital in Vienna to play for young oncology patients, their relatives and many of the caregivers at the hospital. The event was streamed to the rooms of those too ill or immuno-suppressed to be in the room with the players and the other audience members. PSO CEO Jim Wilkinson, Jim Cunningham of WQED and I accompanied Tatjana and Noah to the hospital.

There was some drama leading up to the event: Tatjana had much of the music in her carry-on luggage. She had to gate check her bag and the carry-on did not arrive in Vienna with the musicians, so Tatjana and I downloaded music from emails and other sources on the internet and she was ready to go. The music therapist at st Anna’s, Doris Buchmayr, also helped: she very generously shared with us some printouts of music that the children knew so that we could do some interactive singing and playing with the children. She also provided shakers and child-sized drums for the children to use.

St Anna’s is one of the oldest hospitals in Austria, about 200 years old. It is mainly for oncology patients. The very dedicated medical director and professor of immunology Dr. Wolfgang Holter and Dr. Georg Mann greeted us when we arrived.

Tatjana and Noah were impressively fluent in German, which helped immensely with this event. They introduced themselves and their instruments, played a movement of the Mozart G major duo for viola and violin, some solo Bach (Tatjana played the Prelude from the G major cello suite and Noah the Gavotte from the third Partita for violin) . They also performed some short Bartok duos originally for two violins. The Bartok duos have evocative titles like Mosquito, or Teasing Song, so Noah and Tatjana could ask the children what they thought the song was about before revealing the title. The players invited participation when they played and sang the Three Cornered Hat. Music therapist Doris Buchmayr helped out with the accompanying movements and sang along, getting more participation from the children. Tatjana did a version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in German (an impressive effort!). Noah and Tatjana also played a funny version of the Blue Danube Waltz, and played Happy Birthday and Brahms Lullaby. The little children were remarkably attentive and liked playing along on their percussion instruments. What was most striking was how intently focused they were as each of the musicians played solo Bach. The Bach seemed to make a particularly strong impression.

Noah and Tatjana were very gentle and warm with the children. Their humor and kind manner were much in evidence, and the audience was very appreciative. Thank you both for your generosity of spirit and for taking the time to play for these children as they go through a difficult journey. And thanks also to music therapist Doris Buchmayr for your lovely voice, kind manner and considerable support in making this event a success. Thanks also to St Anna’s for welcoming us into your hospital.

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