By Lin Sue Flood
Photos courtesy of Hospice of the Valley

Bobby Freeman remembers reading about the ebony baby grand at Hospice of the Valley’s Dementia Care and Education Campus in Phoenix. The stunning piano had been generously donated by a man who was grateful for the compassionate care his wife received.

The longtime organist for the Arizona Diamondbacks recalls thinking: “I hope they let me play it someday.” More than a year later, Freeman was pinching himself as he sat down to give a special performance to assisted living residents and adult day club members at the campus.

The enthusiastic audience tapped their feet and clapped their hands as the gifted self-taught musician played dozens of tunes, from Elvis and Beatles to Queen and Elton John, plus classics like “Für Elise,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” When Freeman played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” they cheered wildly as one lifelong baseball fan shouted: “Charge!”

“Music is something we never forget,” Freeman says. “I’m communicating with them through music. There’s a language there and memories come flooding back. My goal is to touch their heart.”

Freeman has been with the D-backs since the team’s first season in 1998. “I knew since I was 2 years old that I wanted to be an organist.”

At 13, he became a professional musician back in his native Cleveland. “I love to share the gift of music,” he says.

“Not only is Bobby an amazing piano player, but he’s also very engaging and interactive,” says Angela Hofler, life enrichment coordinator at the campus. “Everyone really loved that they could shout out a song and he could play it!” After the show, Freeman received many compliments from the audience. “They thought he was wonderful!”

Music therapy is a vital component of Hospice of the Valley’s Dementia Program because musical memories, especially songs with emotional associations, are deeply rooted in long-term memory. “It can bring joy and connection to someone at any stage in their dementia journey,” says Amanda Marcum, the campus’ board-certified music therapist. “It was so rewarding to see our residents and club members reliving those happy emotions watching Bobby play.”

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