NORTHAMPTON — For the past several months, West 5 patients at Cooley Dickinson have bore witness to the power of music thanks to a chance encounter in an elevator.

Northampton High School senior Noah Daube-Valois had already been working at the hospital as a food service assistant when he shared an elevator ride with West 5 Director of Inpatient Health Jacqueline Ouellette while he was delivering food.

A burgeoning pianist looking for opportunities to perform, Daube-Valois asked Ouellette if he could play piano for the West 5 patients.

“My piano teacher always says, ‘the only way to get less nervous while performing is to get nervous more often,’” Daube-Valois said.

Ouellette loved the idea.

“I think we were very impressed with the fact that he even asked,” Ouellette said. “We were very appreciative that he was thinking about our community upstairs … because music can do a lot for people.”

Many weeks later, using a keyboard that was donated to the hospital, Daube-Valois started visiting the hospital every other week to bring joy to West 5 patients and staff by playing piano renditions of songs.

Daube-Valois had already developed a good rapport with West 5 patients during his time working in the hospital’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, but since he started playing piano for them about six months ago, Daube-Valois’ relationship with the patients has only strengthened.

“I’ve just had a really great experience with the patients up there,” said Daube-Valois. “They’re all so nice.”

The songs, which are usually requested by the patients, can range from classics like Elton John’s “Rocket Man” to more contemporary tracks like Andra Day’s “Rise Up.” Almost always, a patient requests a different song from the last.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten the same song requested multiple times,” Daube-Valois said. “Honestly, I’ve never heard of most of the songs requested.”
Incredibly, if Daube-Valois does not know how to play a song a patient requests, he will listen to a few bars of that song on his iPhone and then play it on the spot.

Reminder Publishing saw this unique talent firsthand at Cooley Dickinson on the afternoon of Jan. 18. When a staff member requested that Daube-Valois play Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” the high school senior searched the track on his phone, listened to it for about 30 seconds, paused the song, and then starting playing a rendition on his keyboard in live time.

That type of gift took some practice, according to Daube-Valois, a pianist for 10 years who really started taking the craft seriously around two years ago.

He told Reminder Publishing that he would spend a lot of time listening to songs from Rolling Stone magazine’s “Greatest Songs” lists, and then try to improvise them on his keyboard. He said that process helped him understand the different intervals and chord progressions of each song.

“It has taken a bit of practice and something I’ve very much worked on,” said Daube-Valois. “It’s actually something I started doing once I got the opportunity to play on West 5.”

Music in general is an important part of the wing, according to Ouellette. Oftentimes, patients love listening to music on the radio and singing in the hallways or collaborating with music therapists.

Daube-Valois’s piano-playing is another channel for patients to express their love for music.

For many who roam the wing, his presence has brought an overwhelming sense of jubilation and positive camaraderie among the West 5 patients and staff.

“[Music] gives you a moment to disengage from things that might be bothering you,” Ouellette said. “I think that that’s where our patients really benefit, because it just gives them a moment either to smile and clap along to the entertainer or to try and challenge Noah and see if he could come up with their song and play it.”

Megan McCarthy, an occupational therapist for the West 5 wing, said she has seen firsthand how Daube-Valois’ playing lifts the spirits of patients.

“They love it … it’s like a natural beautiful medicine,” McCarthy said. “It starts conversations that might not have existed before.”

The experience has given Daube-Valois more confidence in his ability to perform and pursue music as a career. The high school senior gives monthly solo recitals at a local retirement home, and he plans to study music in some fashion at Vassar College starting this fall.

“I love performance and composing, and also music therapy is what I’m discovering I may be really interested in,” Daube-Valois said. “I love just playing in front of an audience, whether it’s at the retirement home, recitals or up here. I just love bringing music to other people.”

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts