You're about to meet a composer whose songs you never have heard, but whose music you may never forget. His name is John Beltzer, but don't look for it on the music charts.
You won't find him selling out big concert halls, either. Nor will you find his CDs at your local music store. And that's just fine with him because he writes, plays and sings what he calls songs of love for only one person at a time,- every one of them very special, very young, and very sick, Correspondent Dan Rather reports.
John Beltzer is beginning to compose a love song. His inspiration comes from a girl he hasn’t even met. Her name is Ingrid.
Ingrid Barcia, 16, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. She wants to be president of the United States, loves painting, and comes to Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., at least three times a week for medical tests and chemotherapy. Today, her therapy is coming in a different form: a song. It’s Beltzer’s song, which Ingrid is hearing for the very first time.
"It’s not about selling records. It’s about making a child smile," says Beltzer. "When you write a song for a child in a style that that child likes, and then you couple it with the fact that it's about them, so it's sort of like a double dose of music medicine."
Working out of a small apartment in the New York City borough of Queens, Beltzer runs a non-profit foundation called “Songs of Love.” He raises funds and is paid through contributions.
Beltzer works with about 60 composers in various cities. They write and record custom-made songs tailored to the taste of individual children being treated in hospitals across the country and around the world. A detailed profile, like the one Ingrid completed, lists a few of a child’s favorite people, a few of their favorite things.
Once performed and recorded, the song is usually mailed, and sent overnight if the prognosis is grim. And business is good, which is the sad news. There are so many requests that Beltzer says he and his team have already created more than 7,000 songs.
David Sookhoo, 5, also has leukemia. His treatment is painful and debilitating. He spent two months in the hospital, and now faces at least two and a half years of chemotherapy. If his medications work, David’s chances seem pretty good. More than 85 percent of kids like David survive.
Now, a song of love is being written just for him. To write David’s song, Beltzer recruited composer Danny Obadia. The lyrics came from David himself.
"He’s into making pineapple pizza, the big red dog, playing hide and seek, collecting 'Thomas the Tank Engine' movies, plays with his cars and motorbikes, plays with his trains, and from this we begin a song," says Obadia.
Singer Angela Workman was hired to help perform the piece. For many years, Workman traveled the world as a backup singer for Ray Charles. Now, she’ll be paid only a small fee, just $50. Obadia gets $100.
But however sweet the sound, nothing can hide the reality for David’s parents, Shyna and Prym Sookhoo.
"It's very hard," says Shyna.
"David lost his childhood," says Prym. "He doesn't have that childishness in him because of the chemotherapy. And because of the leukemia. And because of that, we lost that, too. All his friends are in school, having a good time and where is he?"
Shyna and Prym hope the song will cheer David up.
Beltzer rarely gets the chance to witness a child’s first reaction to a song, so 60 Minutes asked him to hand deliver David’s CD so we could watch both of them.
"Some kids really respond well, but some kids get very shy, but inside they’re bubbling with joy. You can see it," says Beltzer. "They’re like, they look, ya know back and, this, 'Wow, this is about me.'"
Beltzer: So how does that sound?
Beltzer: Yeah? You approve?
Beltzer receives lots of thanks from grateful parents and children. But there was very little appreciation for his talent back when he began his musical career as an aspiring rock star.
At 27, he competed on a 1980s talent show, and lost. And there was personal tragedy: his twin brother, Julio, a musician himself, was suffering from schizophrenia. In 1984, Beltzer witnessed his brother's leap to his death from a rooftop.
How did that experience change him? "What I did was I tried to cope with it by keeping the dream alive," says Beltzer. "I know Julio would not have wanted me to fall apart. So I kept going with the music. And I kept pursuing it."
And then one day, Beltzer had a revelation. "I was walking down the street in my neighborhood, and I had the epiphany," says Beltzer. "The realization, like, 'Wow, could you imagine writing a song to help a sick child feel better?'"
He wrote six songs in four days for kids at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, and then he heard a voice on the telephone.
"The voice I heard was this little girl's voice saying, 'Thank you for my song.' And she had cancer," says Beltzer. "I hung up the phone, and I cried my eyes out for half an hour. And that was what -- sort of the confirmation. I knew that I was on the right path."
Beltzer’s songs of love have crossed paths with kids like Aiyana Middleton and her mother. Aiyana, 3, is recovering from stomach cancer.
The sound of music can't always drown out the sound of sickness, loneliness, and isolation. But there is medical evidence that music can help patients where machines cannot. We saw just how potent a prescription of music can be for 8-year-old Victoria Sidorski. When we first met her, Victoria wasn't interested in any music. She was feeling nauseous. She was uncomfortable.
Victoria has brain cancer, and she is undergoing grueling chemotherapy. Sometimes, she can feel better by playing her song -- best of all with her family, where she takes center stage.
At moments like this, Victoria feels embraced: "It is all about me. When I listen to it, it makes me feel good when I do not feel well."
Victoria’s parents, Jeff and Cathy, say when their daughter is not singing along in a crowd, she listens alone in her bedroom.
"She starts to sing along with the words, smile. It makes her think about something positive other than that she's sick," says Cathy Sidorski. "They really should know that what they're doing has a true impact on a child's life like Victoria, who's going through such a difficult time. For them to see -- if they could only see her smile and sing that song, I think they would appreciate that."
And for Beltzer, the reward he gets is not measured in record sales, but in smiles. These are his gold records.