Piano player hears how he lifts spirits
Born blind, Juston Whaling has been playing by ear for more than four decades
April 16, 2018
By Shelly Decker, Storytelling and Social Media Manager, Covenant Health
Juston Whaling doesn’t see children dancing as he plays the piano in the Misericordia Community Hospital. And he misses the smiles on people’s faces as they stop to enjoy his music.
But he hears the happiness of young children’s laughter and the clapping from others as he finishes a song.
The 45-year-old Edmonton man comes four days a week to dance his fingers across the piano keys, playing for an audience he cannot see. Born blind, Juston has been volunteering with the hospital for a decade.
“It’s quite a joy to play the piano,” says Juston during a short break in his set, which typically features about 30 songs. “I know people are listening and enjoying the music. It brings cheer to those who need it.”
Music strikes a chord with people
Juston appreciates those who clap or stop to tell him “good job.” Sometimes people will make requests and he’ll do his best to play the song.
His music brings visible joy and comfort to patients, visitors and staff, says Brenda Shim, Manager of Misericordia Hospital Volunteer Services.
“He glows with positivity when we say, ‘There’s a child behind you and she’s dancing.’ Or, ‘Thank you, Juston. That was great. There was a patient standing behind you and listening and it looked like he really enjoyed it,’“ says Brenda.
Most people aren’t aware Juston can’t see until they speak with him after he finishes a song, adds Brenda.
When he arrives on the DATS bus for his two-hour shift, Juston is met by a support worker who helps him get settled. He is thrilled every time he gets to play one of his sets—a mix of country, gospel and children’s music—at the hospital.
“I feel that it’s therapy for me. I feel better,” says Juston. “It makes me feel like dancing.”
Even on the days he plays at the Misericordia hospital, Juston practises for about two hours on an electric piano at home. He picks up new songs while listening to YouTube.
Growing up on a farm near Gibbons, Juston learned to play by ear when he was about four years old. He went on to get about a dozen years of music lessons. “He’s an amazing player,” says his mother, Colleen. When Juston returns to the family farm every second weekend, he plays piano while Colleen plays the mandolin and his father, Bob, strums the guitar.
“If we’re not playing the right notes or chords, he lets us know what we’re supposed to do. We’re very proud of him,” says Colleen.
Touching lives through music
His grandmother, who died two years ago, taught him his favourite song, “In the Garden,” when he was a youngster. “It makes me cry sometimes because I miss her,” says Juston.
That emotional connection to music is felt by many, making Juston’s contributions so important in a hospital environment where people come for many reasons, says Brenda.
“It might be a familiar tune that reminds them of a loved one. It’s touching lives,” she says. “We are so grateful to have him share his gifts with us.”
And if Juston has his way, people can expect to hear him play at the Misericordia hospital for decades to come.
“I’m here till I’m 65, and then I’ll retire.”