LAKE NONA, Fla. – Step into the Orlando VA Medical Center around lunchtime and you may be greeted with the smooth saxophone sounds of Kenny G or a traditional rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.
The music you will be hearing won't be piped in on overhead speakers but instead comes from the instrument of Dr. Robert Spoul, director of pain management.
Sproul spends most of his day at his computer, consulting physicians, pharmacists and mental health specialists.
But twice a day he takes a break in the "Healing Gardens," an atrium in the center of the facility.
As the sun casts shadows on palm trees, visitors, patients and medical center staff gather to hear him play.
“I needed a place to practice because I have no time at home,” Sproul said. “I stepped into this courtyard and fell in love. The reverb you hear that echo goes out. I absolutely love that.”
Veterans including Louis Holland love the sound, too.
“The first time I heard the music I was standing on top of the parking garage having lunch and I didn’t know where it was coming from,” Holland said. “You can literally hear it all throughout the facility, inside and out.”
Holland and many others who stop to hear Sproul say the melody is uplifting, comforting and in a way healing.
"It's peaceful, it's tranquil, it makes you forget all the negative all the bad that's going on. The demons that veterans face," he said.
Sproul started practicing as a way to rekindle his skills after a 22-year break. The former entertainer stopped playing to pursue his education and career.
"The irony is I tell the veterans I'm just starting to play again and they're so merciful with me," Sproul laughs. "They actually enjoy watching me re-learn and it's really been a pleasure. Some of them have been coming out consistently."
Holland was one of the regulars. After Holland expressed an interest in playing, Sproul gave him his old saxophone so he could learn. Holland said the military always provided a challenge and now the challenge is to learn to play.
"It's given me a purpose," Holland said. "I'm doing something new and learning to play."
All the interest in his playing sparked an idea. Sproul proposed a holiday concert performance, which will take place in December. Now he's practicing with a purpose.
“I’m surprised, and I shouldn’t be, how one instrument, this sax, out here by itself can move people,” Sproul said. “Just play soulfully, and you’ll touch a veteran, you’ll touch anybody.”
DECEMBER 2019 UPDATE:
Sproul performed his VA Holiday Salute Musical Performance in front of a packed auditorium on Dec. 13, 2019.
Air Force veteran Bill Schank was in attendance. He said he was touched by the tribute and it raised his spirits.
“I’m at loss for words,” Schank said. “How deeply it touched me and it brought healing into my life.”
Cyndi Litterine traveled from Ocala to see Sproul play.
“It was the right balance of patriotism and the Christmas theme,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing.”