ELMHURST – Most musicians who put as much time and effort into their music as Avni Dervishi dream of playing for hundreds, even thousands of cheering fans.
Instead, the 22-year-old Elmhurst resident plays his cello bedside for hospice patients who often display little if any reaction to his music.
"He's gone into so many unique situations that for many people can be very depressing and disheartening, and he comes in with grace and dignity," said Debbie Goff, volunteer services manager at Odyssey Hospice, a Gentiva company, in Westchester.
An aspiring doctor, Dervishi volunteers his talents for music therapy and while he still plays with the Elmhurst and Wheaton symphony orchestras, he appreciates the freedom that accompanies solo performances.
"It's unique with each patient in that those kind of feelings inspire very different performances every time," Dervishi said.
While Dervishi studied molecular biology and plans to expand his scientific knowledge in medical school, he values the comforting power of music. Patients with dementia often don't remember him from visit to visit, but sometimes they remember special songs.
"Memory is a very complex thing," said Dervishi. "You might not remember what someone said, but you'll remember a hymn from church years ago."
While hymns are some of the most popular songs with patients, Dervishi remembers a hospice patient requesting he play "Ol' Man River."
"What 22-year-old knows how to play 'Ol' Man River?'" he said with laugh before admitting he knows the song by heart.
Dervishi began volunteering his freshman year of high school at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, but just recently began providing music therapy for Odyssey Hospice patients.
"Music and medicine complement each other very well," he said.
And everyone at Odyssey compliments Dervishi.
"He's going to go off and be this great doctor and discover the cure for cancer or open up a new geriatric wing somewhere," Goff said.
While Dervishi displays a solid idea of what he wants to do with his future, either in the geriatric or pulmonary field, he's soaking in all the practical experience he can now.
"The average age for someone entering medical school is 25," Dervishi said. "It's 25 for a reason because there's a lot of maturing. There's a lot of perspective to be gained before you enter."
He finds much of that perspective in his hospice patients. Learning about the needs of patients at the end of their lives gives Dervishi a look into something most people his age rarely think about.
"Even though patients are at their end of life, they're not gone yet," said patient care manager Terri Puglisi, who coordinates Dervishi's visits with patients.
Goff maintains that Dervishi's gentle nature means as much to the patients as the soothing sound of his cello.
"The music is a big piece, but it's also who Avni is as an individual," Goff said.
Want to volunteer?
To volunteer with Odyssey Hospice, contact Debbie Goff, manager of volunteer services, by emailing Debbie.Goff@odsyhealth.com or calling 708-409-3040.