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Catching Up with ‘The Music Lady’

Photo by Jennifer Bishop

Catching Up with ‘The Music Lady’

For the last 35 years, volunteer Anita Rozenel has brought music — and joy — to the bedside of patients and their families across Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Anita Rozenel was on a phone call with Johns Hopkins Children's Center, making a gift in memory of a friend’s relative, when the question tumbled out.

“Who sings with the children?” asked Rozenel, an elementary school music teacher.

“We don’t have anyone,” she was told.

Her mind quickly turned to the power that music could hold, to the comfort it could bring to young patients who were missing home and struggling with the pain and uncertainty of their illness.

Rozenel didn’t think twice. “You have somebody now,” she said.

Within a few weeks, she was volunteering at the Children’s Center, playing her Yamaha keyboard at bedsides, in hallways and in the playroom, singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Twist and Shout” with whomever wanted to join. “Singing takes kids into another world and brings them happiness and peace,” she says.

When a 2-year-old patient couldn’t say “Miss Anita” and called her “Music Lady,” the name stuck. And for the last 35 years, she has volunteered weekly, making rounds and leading singalongs, bringing joy and providing comfort and motivation. Dressed in colorful clothing embellished with musical notes, her vest embroidered with “Music Lady” and dotted with sparkly pins, Rozenel sings in her warm, rich voice — the songs so catchy at times they inspire families and staff members to sing and dance, too.

“To know Anita is to truly understand the expression of fun and laughter and positivity,” says Patrice Brylske, director of the Child Life Department, who has worked with Rozenel since 1997 as part of the Arts and Health program at the Children’s Center. “Her shining, warm personality is such a valued presence.”

Rozenel is so dedicated to the Children’s Center that after one of her kindergarten students died of cancer in 1992, she and her husband, Sam, founded Kids Helping Hopkins, a values-education program benefiting the Children’s Center. Students give from their hearts and help patients at the Children’s Center by donating toys and gifts and holding fundraisers. Since 1994, Kids Helping Hopkins has raised nearly $2 million.  

Rozenel has logged more than 10,500 volunteer hours as the Music Lady and still feels the same tingle of excitement every time she wheels her keyboard cart to a patient’s room, ready to sing with the children she’s come to think of as her own.

“When I go to a room and ask, ‘Do you want music?’ everything about the room just changes, including with the family,” she says. “Bringing music brings happiness and joy, not just to patients and families, but to me, too.”

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