As the sounds of an alto sax and a bass wafted across the lobby of University Drive's Consolidation Building, curious Veterans began to gather. Soon, dozens of onlookers ringed the lobby to enjoy various selections performed by a diverse trio of musicians.
The music that day was a part of VA Pittsburgh's Summer Concert Series. A desire to provide a more relaxing environment for visitors sparked the series, said Voluntary Specialist Deb Goral.
"It's all about caring in a different way for our Veterans," Goral said. "We're helping people to heal in places that are harder to reach."
Hemanth Venkatesh, 16, volunteered at VA Pittsburgh this summer. When asked by Goral if he would play his alto sax for Veterans, he enthusiastically agreed.
One day, Veteran Daniel Schlegel, 62, of McKeesport, was on his way to an appointment and heard Venkatesh play.
"I said, 'Hey, you're doing a great job,'" said Schlegel, a Vietnam era Veteran. "I told him I played bass and [Venkatesh] said, 'Would you like to play with me?'"
"We've been grooving together ever since," Venkatesh said.
VA volunteer Anna Mechling, 14, rounded out the day's trio on the violin, playing between the sax and bass numbers. Mechling, who had not played before an audience before, admitted to butterflies before beginning. The applause from Veterans told her she had nothing to worry about.
The trio plays everything from Adele to classical pieces to rhythm and blues.
The Veterans in the lobby clearly enjoyed the musical break.
"It's great to have something like this," said Navy Veteran Bill Vos, 60, of Dormont. "It makes for a more relaxing atmosphere.
"That's what these guys need – music that they like," said Army World War II Veteran Thomas M. Miller, 84, of Robinson Township. "It takes some of the dismal out of the experience for these guys."
For the musicians, seeing the smiles on the faces of the Veterans is all the thanks they need.
"One of the Veterans last time was in tears when we played ‘Summertime,' said Schlegel.
"That's what we're aiming for," said Goral. "That the Veterans know someone cares enough to give the gift of music."