Volunteer pianists play for peace of mind

It is said that where words fail, music speaks. This is true in the case of Melissa, who is one of 20 volunteer pianists playing for pleasure at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH).

This August the Royal Adelaide Hospital Volunteers, affectionately known as the vollies – or the lavender ladies and lads – are celebrating 50 years of service. The volunteer pianists’ program was introduced in July last year.

The baby grand piano is based on Level 3 RAH, sites within the atrium thats high ceilings create a naturally ideal acoustic setting.

The piano was donated by RAH cancer patient , David John Pope for the ‘listening pleasure of staff, patients and visitors of the RAH’.

Volunteer Melissa rotates on a roster of two-hour sets from Monday to Saturday, sharing her talents to help create a peaceful ambience for staff, patients and visitors to the RAH.

Some volunteer pianists bring in their own music sheets and speakers for accompanying music, and others, like Melissa, play eclectic, classical, popular or improvisation songs to create a serene and welcoming environment.

“In such a setting we’re there to compliment the environment and to create a peaceful atmosphere, not put on a show,” says Melissa.


Melissa, volunteer pianist  at the RAH

Melissa classically-trained pianist who began playing at age six, says music was her first love. She has long since honed her skills and can listen to a piece of music, transcribe it in her head and play it for you by ear.

With her two-year anniversary since joining the vollies fast approaching, Melissa says that while she started volunteering to give back to community, the experience has been entirely reciprocal.

“We’re here to give back to the community of visitors, patients, ancillary staff, clinical staff and families – playing is a compliment to their healing journey,” says Melissa.

This has been cathartic for me. Music is part of my personality and person – being able to link that to helping people is wonderful.

Click below to hear Melissa play.


Playing music for people is gift and it is freely given. It’s a self-focused, pro-social act that helps me – but I hope it helps others more,” says Melissa.

The music can be a break from what can be an overwhelming experience visiting a hospital for many people Melissa often has children join in dancing around the piano to the tune of Happy Birthday or popular movie themes.

“Patients, visitors and families with children have shared their stories of suffering and joy with me – these are incredibly emotive moments shared at the piano that I feel privilege to be part of,” says Melissa.

Dr Patsy Tan is a Registered Music Therapist, a certified neurologic music therapist and NICU therapist and the head of the Music Therapy Program, run by the Centre for Creative health, which is funded by The Hospital Research Fund.

The COVID-19 pandemic is Dr Tan’s fifth pandemic working within a hospital setting, having experienced SARS, H1N1, MERS and Ebola, and she says the music in the atrium has been particularly soothing for staff.

Dr Tan says the objective of the program was mostly to help manage the anxiety of patients and nurses when COVID-19 was still new to everyone.

“Receptive music therapy may have its value in acute medical setting in improving the mood and reduce the perception of pain, and perhaps anxiety of patients during hospitalisation,” says Dr Tan.

Thank you to our valued vollies for all your contribution to patient care and extraordinary consumer experience.

Say hello to Melissa and share in her on Friday mornings (who also takes requests).