Kaleidoscope at the Ronald McDonald House

Kaleidoscope took its December program to the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House. 

The house is located across the street from Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), which is one of the top five children's hospitals in the world. People come from all over the world so that their children can receive specialized medical care, and the Ronald McDonald House provides a welcoming place for families to stay while their children receive treatment. The Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House is a program of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California. The House can accommodate up to 75 families each night, and it has served more than 30,000 families from all 50 United States and more than 45 countries across the world since its opening in 1980. 

Cortney DeLotto, program services coordinator for the Los Angeles branch, has been committed to bringing music into the House since she started there in September. 

"One thing I noticed was that there was no music in the House," she said. "There was no radio playing, no music classes, no performances. It was so quiet. Music can change the whole energy of the place, and I think that is so important." 

Kaleidoscope's presence brought a cacophony of sound as the orchestra's 44 musicians warmed up in the lobby before the concert. Parents and children filtered in after their dinner to hear Ives' Unanswered Question and Brahms' Symphony No. 4.

"People have no idea how rare it is to see the symphony in the third row," said Willie, whose family came from Guatemala so that his son could be treated for a brain tumor at CHLA. His three children did not speak much English, but nodded vigorously when asked if they had enjoyed the music.

"This was the first time we've had a musical performance like that," DeLotto said. "It was so much grander than I had even anticipated or expected. It made me so happy to see the families get to enjoy something like that, especially around the holidays." 

The holidays are the slowest time of year at the House, because patients who can choose when to receive care will often elect to be home for the holidays. 

"The families that are here right now really have no choice but to be here, so they're sometimes the ones who need the most cheer," DeLotto said. "With the uncertainty they face every day with what their children are going through, anything that brings them that much joy and cheer is priceless." 

Families who stay at the House are asked to pay $25 a night, but they never are turned away for the inability to pay. DeLotto said that about three-quarters of the families currently at the house do not pay anything toward their stay. 

"People tend to assume this is because we are mostly serving low-income families, but that's not the case," she said. "Most families start off as middle-income families, but when their child gets sick, a parent has to stop working to take care of the child. That, coupled with medical bills and a mortgage or rent, means that $25 a night can turn out to be a huge financial burden." 

DeLotto noted that Ronald McDonald House's mission is to bridge access to CHLA's specialized care and to allow families to stay together and have a place to live when their child needs treatment. 

"If you have a child who is dying, you're going to want to go see the one person who might be able to cure that problem," she said. "We want everybody to have access to that type of care. This house is really an extension of our community; we are opening our arms and saying, 'If you need access to this then of course you can stay with us. Of course we'll take care of you while you're here. Of course we'll play music for you, and feed you, and look after you so that you can focus on what's most important -- healing your sick child.'"

Kaleidoscope is committed to reaching out to the Los Angeles community and bringing live music to people who might not otherwise have access to classical concerts. 

"It's really beautiful when groups like yours come in, because it's so specifically Los Angeles," DeLotto said about Kaleidoscope's visit. "The talent level was through the roof! This was the first time we've ever done anything like this, and everyone was blown away."

Kaleidoscope's next concerts will be on January 23rd and 24th, and will feature Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, and the west coast premiere of Alyssa  Weinberg's in somnis.

Nicole Sauder