Piano Play-a-Thon helps bring joy to children in hospitals

Donations made to Child Life program

The Madison Area Friends of Piano hosted its 25th annual piano “Play-a-Thon” at the Barnes & Noble of West Towne Mall Saturday. The event featured hundreds of young pianists who helped raise money for the American Family Children’s Hospital.

The money goes toward the Child Life program, which provides books, toys and art supplies to children in long-term treatment. These items are donated to help bring them joy and keep them occupied while in the hospital.

One performer at the event, Lucas Meyer, knew the importance of the program quite well. He was in treatment for leukemia for three years and liked making paper bag puppets and stick figures of his family members. He vividly remembers one volunteer who made him happy, pushing him down the hallways on a bike.

“I just hope this competition helps a lot of people in the children’s hospital get blessed and get through whatever situation they’re in,” Meyer said.

After being out of the hospital for five years, Meyer performed Saturday because he wanted to help other kids who are in the situation he was once in. He said having his friends and family there for support helped, but it was still tough.

“It was really hard for me, and I just want to make it a little easier for them,” Meyer said.

Now Lucas has his strength back and enjoys playing soccer and singing.

Linda Johnson is Lucas’s piano instructor and teaches 25 students in the area. She’s also his grandmother. She said it’s very special to be able to teach Lucas and his brother Isaac.

“It’s more than just teaching when it’s your grandchildren,” Johnson said. When she goes to teach at the Meyer house, it’s not just a lesson– it’s bonding time where they can sit down and have a meal together as a family.

Johnson loves playing piano because it allows her to communicate feelings that are difficult to put into words. She said it has been encouraging to have a number of her students volunteer to participate in the Play-a-Thon.

“For us to have Lucas be now five years past the end of [a three-year] treatment – it just means the world to us to be able to help American Family Children’s Hospital to make other families’ experience as positive it can be in the hard situations,” Johnson said.

Hundreds of participants performed their favorite pieces at the Play-a-Thon alongside their peers. They could also visit a display from Madison’s Chapter of the Piano Technician’s Guild. Children could see the mechanics of the inside of a piano and could play with the hammers that strike the strings to make the instrument sound.

Technician Justin Klein said the Piano Technician’s Guild set up the display to get children excited about playing piano.

“Pianos are a great way to stimulate mental growth, and we want to get kids involved with playing,” Klein said. “For them to see the piano actions and how they work could help them get interested.”

In addition to teaching children about piano, the event taught them the importance of giving back to the community. Last year the Play-a-Thon raised $12,000 for children undergoing treatment.