Ryan Leo, 35, has always been an avid musician — so much so he even tried out for the reality television singing contest “The Voice.”
“I never made it to television, but it was a great experience,” he says.
But the show indirectly introduced him to Musicians on Call, an organization that provides musical entertainment to hospital patients.
What is it like to play music at hospitals?
It’s different, every room and every time. You go into some rooms and you can have all different states of consciousness because we play at Veteran’s Affairs, the children’s hospital and Virginia Hospital Center for all different ages.
A lot of patients are used to people coming into their room and wanting something from them so they’re a little taken aback at first. Once they find out you want to play a song for them, you can still see they are tentative but they’re more open to having you in.
I’m only playing one song, so for me it’s about focusing on that patient and giving them something — no matter how long they’ve been in the hospital — that is a glimpse of the outside world that they don’t typically get there.
How did you hear about Musicians on Call?
I first heard about them because I’m a singer and I wanted to audition for “The Voice.” I had never watched it, but I wanted to learn more about it so I turned on an episode. On that episode, one of the vocalists talked about Musicians on Call. I decided to look it up and see if they were in the Washington area. They were just starting here at the time so I contacted them and have been involved ever since.
I’ve been volunteering with them for about four years and play at least once a month in a hospital. I go around, room to room, and if a patient, and their family, is up for music I’ll play them a song; just me and a guitar right at their bedside.
How did you get started in music?
My mom was very musical and her piano was always in the house. I was always intrigued by it and drawn to it. I would bang on it and play with it. I started taking piano lessons when I was in elementary school, and [then] started playing drums. By middle school I started playing guitar. In high school I played in some of the bands. Since then it has become a huge part of my life. I started writing music and wanted to give back through music.
What is the reception you get from your hospital room audience?
You don’t know if they really enjoyed it until the end. Sometimes people sit there very quietly. Some people are clapping and are very happy. When you finish you just see this large smile come on their face and you know you’ve given them something that they haven’t had. The nurses, doctors and the family will tell you, “Oh, this is the first time they’ve smiled since they’ve been here.” You get all different reactions which brightens up their mood, brightens the whole atmosphere.