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Piano player surprises hospital visitors in Mesa

Cardon Children's Medical Center janitor Rolando Maaba plays the piano for patients in Mesa. (Billy Hardiman/MyNewsMesa.com)

Music is said by some to help feed the soul.

Cardon Children’s Medical Center janitor Rolando Maaba plays the piano for patients in Mesa. (Billy Hardiman/MyNewsMesa.com)

If that theory rings true, then Rolando Maaba has filled plenty of souls. He’s certainly filled the halls and lobbies around the combined campus of Banner Desert and Cardon Children’s medical centers in Mesa with soulful sounds.

Maaba has worked in the environmental services department of the two hospitals since February. Besides doing his job five days a week, he’s become a well-known entertainer in the buildings.

Maaba loves music and loves to play for people. Pianos are located in and near the lobbies of Desert and Cardon and are frequently played by patients, visitors and anyone else who happens upon them.

Banner employees have come to recognize when it’s Maaba playing, because of the quality and consistency of his music, Banner Desert receptionist Steve Dunmire said. Dunmire mans the front desk at Desert, just a few feet from the lobby outside the hospital’s chapel. In that lobby sits a big piano, and for a couple of hours nearly every day, Maaba is on the piano bench, playing.

Carson,1, and Brooke, 3, Valenzuela watch Cardon Children’s Medical Center janitor Rolando Maaba as he plays the piano for patients in Mesa. (Billy Hardiman/MyNewsMesa.com)

He usually gets to work about two hours early just so he can play.

Maaba’s boss, Chad Huddle, the director of environmental services, said Maaba made sure his playing was OK soon after he joined the hospital staff.

Indeed it is, Huddle said.

“He likes volunteering,” Huddle said of Maaba. That volunteer spirit fits well with Banner’s philosophy.

“Our mission at Banner has been for a long time to make a difference in patient care and people’s lives,” Huddle said. “I want to do that myself and so does Rolando.”

Dunmire said people who walk by the reception desk frequently comment about how talented Maaba is when they pass through the lobby as he’s playing.

Maaba’s piano playing stood out after just a few days, Dunmire said.

“Usually it’s random people playing random songs and styles,” he said. Dunmire said Maaba’s energy is evident in his playing and that makes it easy to know when he’s the guy at the keys.

Cardon Children’s Medical Center janitor Rolando Maaba plays the piano for patients in Mesa. (Billy Hardiman/MyNewsMesa.com)

Maaba is a self-taught musician. He learned to play guitar as a teenager. In part, he migrated toward music because he said he didn’t much like school.

His parents and siblings all pushed him to make sure he finished elementary and high school and two years of college.

“I hate school since I was little. I was always running away,” Maaba said.

Then he heard someone playing the piano and decided he could do it, too. And, he did. Maaba also plays the drums and flute and teaches guitar.

Maaba mostly plays by ear, but can read chords which means he reads guitar music.

“Piano notes, I don’t know how to read,” he said.

That doesn’t stop him from playing essentially every style of music on the piano.

His hospital repertoire includes tango, cha-cha, classical, rock and Spanish music. He loves playing Journey and Abba and will take requests for any style.

“I play a lot of ’60s and ’70s music,” Maaba said.

He loves the opportunities his playing gives him to interact with patients, visitors and employees.

“They all talk to me,” Maaba said. “They are all nice to me.”

Maaba lives in Gilbert with his wife, Fernarence. She also works for Banner Health. They moved to Arizona earlier this year from Rockport, Illinois, where he worked at a hospital for about 18 years. A native of the Philippines, Maaba lived in Guam for almost 20 years before heading to Illinois.

He was ready to escape winter in the Midwest. He knew to expect Arizona’s heat, and says it reminds him of the Philippines and of Guam.

He played the piano at the hospital in Rockport, too, and frequently performed at an Italian restaurant there.

Huddle is happy to have an enthusiastic, dedicated employee in the department. “With all of his energy, I knew I needed to bring him here.”

Huddle said he knew he wanted to hire Maaba when they conducted a preliminary interview via Skype.

“As soon as he sat down and smiled at me, I knew I’d hire him,” Huddle said. “Some people just immediately make an impression on you.”

As for Maaba’s regular appearances at the piano, Huddle said it’s obvious that Maaba “enjoys the opportunity to uplift someone. He’s a very positive-energy person.”

That energy is important within Banner, Huddle said.

“We are here as a Banner family to help people on what could be one of the best days of their lives, but also could be one of the most difficult days,” Huddle said. “What Rolando brings to the table is extra special.”

– Shelley Ridenour is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.

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