Saveyon’s little fingers thrash clumsily across the strings of the acoustic guitar, and he quickly looks up to songwriter Tim James to see if it’s OK.
“Keep going, you got it.” Another little boy, hearing music or something close to it, dances over with a big grin and feet flying in all directions. A few tiny hands in the back drop their crayons as curious faces look up from their craft table.
It’s about to start.
You don’t often find an award-winning songwriter enjoying the company of a group of toddlers and adolescent patients at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, but here he is, looking around for a moment wondering what he has gotten himself into.
James, who has written hit songs for country artists including George Strait, Trace Adkins and Billy Ray Cyrus, is in town from Nashville to promote the first Downtown St. Petersburg Songwriters Festival Nov. 1-3, which will benefit the Johns Hopkins All Children’s music therapy program.
Maybe that’s why he showed up to play a few of his songs for the kids, and invent a few new ones along the way, all while broadcasting into patient rooms for those too ill to make the elevator ride to the auditorium.
The kids who do show up are loving it, giggling every time James sings one of their names. But when he asks them to come up on the makeshift stage created in the Children’s Auditorium for this special event, they suddenly get shy.
“Me and Saveyon gonna sing this song …” James starts with a glance over to Saveyon, 10, who immediately buries his face in his arm and shakes his head, giggling. “If he don’t speed up, it’ll take too long …’cause I got to catch a plane tonight, got to get home to see my kids.” Saveyon sneaks a peek through an open elbow to see if the song is still about him but looks away quickly as soon as he’s spotted.
“We are just making it up as we go,” James says. “I’m just trying to make it fun, and get the kids comfortable with singing and even writing a few lines.”
James may not know it, but events like this are key for sick children—especially those like Saveyon who is inpatient long term for chemotherapy to treat his leukemia. Events like this singalong offering a few moments of fun and normalization are shown to improve psychological and social health for frightened or stressed children.
But no need to worry about that now. James just started a new singalong.
“The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round….”
It’s a little young for him, but Saveyon can’t help but sing along.