A Piano Story

Posted on Dec 27, 2019

Environmental Services employee Katrina Bernal plays the piano in the hospital lobby
Environmental Services employee Katrina Bernal plays the piano in the hospital lobby during her breaks, sharing the joy of music with patients and families.

One of the joys of passing through the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital main lobby is the beloved baby grand piano positioned a few steps inside the entrance. It beckons both learned musicians and novices alike to sit down and tickle the ivories a bit. To cast off their cares in the form of melody.

But something happens when Environmental Services employee Katrina Bernal sits down to play…

Her music fills the entire lobby with sound — each note beautiful enough to stop passers-by in their tracks — each measure compelling enough to end conversations and turn heads.

Katrina is responsible for cleaning rooms on the hospital’s eighth floor. But on any given day, she is known to slip down to the lobby on her break and proceed to give language to the music of her heart.

“I am so emotional. It’s crazy,” Katrina says. “I want to make music so genuine and pure that people will come around and say that music isn’t dead anymore.”

Her tastes are eclectic. … She may play a current hit one moment, a Beatles tune the next, and an elaborate rendition of a Pink Floyd song the next. Katrina also composes her own music. The endless scores in her head might reveal a part of her soul that is bluesy, jazz-infused, romantic or cinema-style evocative.

Katrina does not read music. She plays entirely by ear, a gift she has cultivated since childhood. Her style is not self-conscious — she’s more forte’ than pianissimo, to be sure. And she plays so fully, with such feeling, it is hard not to notice, not to join her somehow, in her musical story.

On this day … employees who were mid-stride have stopped to listen.

A 5-year-old patient with an infusion line has convinced his mom and dad to wheel him closer to the piano. 

A mother with her toddler in her arms, each with big smiles and equal wide-eyed wonder, move slowly toward the musical embrace that has overtaken the lobby.

“I love this hospital,” Katrina says. “I love being a part of a movement to help others, and the idea that I could be of service. I always want my life to be that way.”

Katrina plays the last few notes of a sweet melody … a benediction for the moment. She quietly slips out from behind the piano and prepares to resume her workday.

There are rooms to clean and patients who need a kind word. So much that is important to be done here.
She heads for the elevators — the musical notes still dancing in her head.


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