Richard Williams sits in front of the grand piano in the lobby of Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland three mornings a week.
He reaches into his memory, and into his heart, and he makes the black and white keys sing.
As people pass by on their way to a procedure or to visit a loved one, their faces often break into smiles when they hear the notes.
Some stop to talk.
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Every once in a while, some even dance.
Williams' playing is lovely and gentle, and he likes that it can provide comfort and lift spirits during what's often a stressful time.
Music offers relief, he said, sitting on the piano bench between songs. "People need it."
Williams, 73, of Richland, has been helping meet that need at Kadlec for eight years. He's one of 17 musicians who volunteer at the hospital by playing the piano in the lobby or taking a more portable instrument, like a violin or guitar, to patient floors.
Williams spends about 11/2 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the lobby grand, tucked in a corner near a bank of elevators.
He's classically trained, versed in Beethoven and Chopin. But he especially likes to play movie themes, in part because they're familiar to people.
He played song after song Monday -- Over the Rainbow, Moon River, My Heart Will Go On. He used no sheet music, looking only to a piece of paper with a long list of song titles to jog his memory. The melodies, the arrangements, the emotion in the notes -- those came from inside.
Williams has been playing piano most of his life, and he spent years working in music stores and giving lessons. Several years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a progressive nervous system disorder. He's had to make some adjustments when it comes to the instrument he's played for so long, namely switching up some arrangements to favor his stronger right hand.
Coming to Kadlec to play keeps his fingers limber and his mind sharp, he said.
The Richland hospital's music program has been around for more than a decade. Volunteers must be at least 15 years old. They generally play what they like -- movie themes, like Williams. Or jazz, or classical. One volunteer breaks out Billy Joel.
"Everyone who plays -- they're incredible," said Meg Fallows, Kadlec's volunteer coordinator, noting they play in front of strangers, who often are experiencing hard times, and find ways to engage.
"It's calming -- very calming in fact. It will quiet the lobby down. It brings the anxiety level down a notch or two, which is huge," Fallows said.
Other hospitals have similar programs to comfort, soothe and delight. Trios Health in Kennewick, for example, has volunteers who man the grand piano in the atrium of the new Southridge hospital or play other instruments in the hallways of the medical and surgical patient floors.
In the Kadlec lobby, Williams' notes glided and danced. They floated up to an ICU waiting area, on a floor above. People keeping vigil there sometimes come down to say the music helped.
Williams recalled one man in particular, whose wife was dying. He told the pianist that the only relief he had was listening to the gentle notes.
Williams' music also has been catalyst for happier scenes. Once, when he was playing a song from Beauty and the Beast, a couple got up and waltzed. Other times, children have twirled and sashayed and leaped while Williams played.
No one danced Monday. But a couple of people stopped by the piano to chat.
The lobby was busy, but hushed.
Williams played Memory from the Broadway musical Cats. He played Up Where We Belong, the theme from An Officer and a Gentleman.
And several people on their way to or from, in a wheelchair or on foot -- they couldn't help it. They heard the music Williams plays from his heart, and they smiled as they passed by.
To learn more about becoming a music volunteer at Kadlec, email Fallows at firstname.lastname@example.org.
w Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald