Just before sunset on a recent evening, 12-year-old Jason Zgonc positions his music stand outside Emory Decatur Hospital, grabs hold of his trumpet and performs “God Bless America.”
Many health care workers completing — or beginning — 12-hour shifts close to 8 p.m. walk outside the hospital to a sweet, comforting sound filling the air. For more than 20 consecutive days (with the exception of a couple of days because of heavy winds and rain), Jason, a Decatur sixth grader, has played several songs here on his trumpet.
Wearing a baseball cap and a baseball shirt, Jason soothes a group of health care workers in the throes of a COVID-19 pandemic with music — “A Million Dreams.” “Beauty and the Beast.” “A Whole New World.” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
On a warm spring evening with a soft breeze, a small group of health care workers, wearing face masks, stand at a distance and listen. Other health care workers on a nearby sidewalk or at a parking deck stop and savor the sound. Ambulances flash their lights as they pass by.
Once, a nurse walking by was moved by Jason’s performance of “A Million Dreams.” She told him she listens to that song every time she goes on break. Now Jason makes a point to play the song — especially if he spots her in the crowd.
“I started getting texts from staff saying how much they are enjoying it. He is very talented,” said Bob Dent, vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer at Emory Decatur Hospital. “He is bringing a moment of serenity to the staff.”
Dent, who listened to Jason on a recent evening, also praised Jason for his time and commitment. And committed Jason is. He recently fell off his bike, scraping both knees. On the recent evening, he hobbled his way to his performance spot. But he pushed past a grimace, which gave way to a soft smile. He stood tall and performed one song after another — barely pausing to catch his breath between songs. He usually plays for about 15 minutes.
Jason started playing piano at age 5 and started playing trumpet about three years ago. He says he loves everything about the trumpet — the brilliant tone, the feel of the brass instrument in his hands.
And now he has more reason to love his craft.
“It feels good to make people happy with something I feel like I’m good at,” he said.
Jason is a member of the Georgia All-State Middle School Band and a semifinalist in a national trumpet competition for middle schoolers. His father, Nathan Zgonc, joined the trombone section of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2011. His mother, Karen Zgonc, owns ZTunes Music, a music school, in Atlanta. And his younger brother, Tristan, who is 7, plays the French horn.
Jason and his family got the idea to perform at Emory Decatur after seeing an Instagram post of Ethan Bensdorf of the New York Philharmonic playing beautiful trumpet and songs including John Lennon’s “Imagine” on his roof every evening in New York City.
Jason said he was nervous when he first started performing outside the hospital, but he’s grown more comfortable with performing. The family now have the routine down pat. They keep a music stand in the car, and Jason carries his trumpet in the car, sometimes warming up on the way to the hospital.
Jason, who attends Renfroe Middle School, said while he misses going to school, he can now devote more time to practicing trumpet. Typically, he would practice about 45 minutes a day, but now, he’s more than doubled that, especially with his daily performances at Emory Decatur. He continues with his weekly trumpet lesson online.
His dad and Tristan sometimes join him.
Jason, who will continue performing every day with no end date in sight, has also agreed to a special request from the hospital: to perform at various times so more staff, who work at different hours, can enjoy his music.
“It gets us outside and a way to give back to our community and to the front-line workers who are having to go to work,” said Karen Zgonc. “It’s our small way of saying thank you.”
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