Playing by Heart

Joseph Samuels never had any musical training. But five years ago he sat down at a piano, and people have been listening ever since.

If there's one thing that makes Joseph a favored piano volunteer, says Weiss, it's that his music doesn't remind anyone of anything in particular. If someone sits down to play "Memories" or "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," the words or music are likely to evoke bittersweet feelings in the patients and caregivers who hear it. But Joseph's music doesn't have an automatic emotional attachment for anyone.

"It's uplifting, but it doesn't have any memories associated with it," she says.

Joseph loves playing at the hospital. Some folks show up on a regular basis, like pediatric occupational therapist Andrea Mettler, who spends each Friday lunch hour listening to Joseph.

"This is my downtime," she says. After the recent terrorist attacks, Mettler came to listen to Joseph. She was finally able to cry, she says, and release the tension inside her.

Joseph knows people in pain reach out to his music. He talks about people trying to tip him, but he won't accept their money. All he wants, he says, is to help heal grief.

"It's been an interesting journey," he says. "It's made me very humble."

Joseph is seated in a booth in Memorial Hermann's cafeteria, scarfing down a shrimp poor boy. He says he's sure he could go out to L.A. and make it big. He's sent out some letters to Oprah Winfrey and to A&R people at record labels. But he hasn't heard anything positive just yet. And anyway, that's not the point. The point is taking care of people. And taking care of people means he's taking care of himself.

"So long as I am in the music, it's good for me," he says. "It keeps me in a very good space."

A few days later he calls to play a recording of a new composition over the phone. The piano is backed up with several string instruments.

"It takes on a whole new meaning when the strings are behind it," he says, very excited.

Then he asks if he can share a quote he says he wrote a few years back.

"To be a great creative, there is tremendous pain," he says in a breathless, important voice. "But when the creative mind creates in his own element, he will continue to live forever. Without it, he will die."

Joseph Samuels is no Beethoven. Whether he knows that is not certain. But it is probably not important. He has his miracle story and he has his believers, and that's enough.

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