To be a musician is to connect, to reach out and make true contact with those around you. For a musician, the only real way to communicate is with music. All of the other modes of communication just seem to fall short.
This is how it is for Peter. Not many of us know what it is like to face leukemia. So while he can’t tell you exactly what it feels like to be him, he can play you a song and, like any musician, hope you will understand.
Peter originally wished for a Steinway Grand Piano, but he ended up getting so much more than that. He was asked to play before The Carolina Ballet Theatre’s presentation of The Nutcracker at the Peace Center in South Carolina. Tonight, the crowd is in tears as Peter plays Mozart and Beethoven for them in perfect form. He plays with the emotion and power that only a person with his life experiences can produce. The music is human, true, and undeniably felt.
Today, Peter is in remission and still lives for playing his piano. Since his performance with the ballet, numerous other musical groups, like the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, have asked him to perform with them and he couldn’t be happier.
Peter’s wish was more than just a special day for him. It inspired him and so many others in his community and across the country. After that day, Peter was no longer the boy with leukemia. He now sees himself as a musician – and so do the people in his community who have experienced the emotion in his music.
A Volunteer Looks at 100 Wishes
Hugh O’Neill has been a wish volunteer for fourteen years. He knew nothing of pianos when he wrote down Peter’s very specific wish for a Steinway baby grand. But when he set to work researching the wish and finding out how to make it come true, he found out that baby grand pianos come with very adult prices.
Hugh left Peter’s house and turned to his wish granting partner, Kelli, and said, “A Steinway. That’s sounds expensive.” Actually, they go for around $20,000.
“I never thought it would happen in the very beginning,” Hugh says, “but nothing is impossible if you have a little luck…and a bank!”
He’s referring of course to TD Bank’s generous donation that allowed this wish– dubbed “The Big Wish” in South Carolina–to take place.
It took nearly nine months to pull it all together, but they did it. On the night of the performance, the piano was stashed in the orchestra pit on a lowered floor board. “It rose out like a miracle,” Hugh recalls.
This year, Hugh will grant his hundredth wish. When asked what keeps him going he says, “[A wish] gives a kid the world. The reactions are just amazing.”
On Down the Road
It’s hard to say just how far a wish will reach. Like a pebble tossed gingerly into placid waters, the ripples that a wish produces can only be measured by the shores they touch.
Peter’s wish is the kind of wish that produces a wave of positivity. Not only is he overjoyed to receive the piano, but he is also given the chance to play in front of people. The audience he plays for witnesses the sheer power of the human spirit to overcome any indomitable obstacle laid before it. A music career is born, a beacon for hope is lit and the list goes on until the story ends up in the hands of the reader.
From there the story continues and even repeats itself. The show goes on, if you will, on down the road of life. We all struggle together, and I’d say that is what music is all about. That’s why music makes so much sense to a person like Peter. He doesn’t play with sheet music–he just plays by ear. Like you or I might carry on a conversation with words, Peter uses his fingers to clink is feelings through an old piano on a wooden stage. It’s his invitation to the world for communication. It offers a hand of experience that welcomes and raises the rest of us from our own lows and struggles.
So, while Peter’s wish undoubtedly stretched beyond the limits of an everyday story, his splash will not settle and there will be no return to placidity. The show will go on and the music will continue. Through the darkest of moments comes the most beautiful music, and I think that’s mostly what we are seeing here.
Story and interview by Kevin Hanlon, former Maker-A-Wish intern