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‘The Tribute’: Patient’s Appreciation Becomes Song

Published on Nov. 10, 2020

Jeff Hanna and Jerry Byville created "The Tribute" to honor staff at Cowell Family Cancer Center.

Inspiration for songwriters can come in many ways.

Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the Star Spangled Banner after experiencing the bombing of Fort McHenry by the British in 1812. John Newton wrote Amazing Grace after reflecting on his salvation from his early life as a slave trader. Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” after hearing news in November 1975 of the freighter’s plight.

For Traverse City musician and retired Romeo middle school teacher Jerry Byville, it has been the compassion and care that permeates the Cowell Family Cancer Center that has inspired him and guitarist Jeff Hanna to write “The Tribute.” The jazz-infused song from the duo, who perform as the Plumville Project, comes from Jerry’s heart of appreciation for every staff member at the cancer center.

“Initially this stems from the guy at the front door. The greeter saw me coming and said something really positive and he had his eyes on us as we go the elevator,” he said. “I know he would have caught me, if I fell, before I hit the ground. In the Infusion Center, I am watching everyone and they work as a team. As a teacher, I am good at observing that stuff. And I can tell you that they are fabulous.”


"I Had to Write this Song"

Jerry’s first encounter with Munson Healthcare came in 2014 with surgery at Munson Medical Center for prostate cancer. He has spent a lot of time at the cancer center since then in follow-up care as the disease tried to manifest itself in other ways over the years.

“I ask them in the Infusion Center how they do this every day. It is just so impressive,” he said. “I had to write this song whether it is musically anything anyone wants to listen to or not, I had to do it.”

A trumpet player for more than 50 years, Jerry said he became unable to play that instrument due to his condition. He learned of an EWI (electronic wind instrument) that can make sounds of flutes, saxophones and other wind instruments, and he has dedicated himself to learning it over the past few years.

Thinking about “The Tribute,” Jerry shared his thoughts with Jeff, together they came up with a chord progression and started working out a melody with Jerry using a saxophone sound on the EWI. In addition to Jeff’s guitar work, Jerry also employed a computer program called “Band in a Box” to provide the rhythm and other background sounds.

“I can hold my own, I have learned and progressed. I love what it does to my brain, how your brain changes when you deal with music, especially when I improvise,” he said. “When I play, I am in a different world. I am out there and it has helped me so much through these six years with cancer.”


Music in Wood Shop

Jerry spent 37 years in education teaching wood shop, social studies, and other subjects to young teens. After school, during his early teaching years he started a jam session in the wood shop for young musicians who wanted to learn how to improvise. Those sessions continued for years. He remains modest about his musical skill and credits Jeff for a lot of the duo’s creativity.

During his different periods of care at the cancer center and at the hospital, he remains awed how staff continually minister to needs and stay positive.

“This song is a thank you, and I would recommend Munson Healthcare and the cancer center to anyone,” he said. “The staff there all have a personality that just works with what they are doing that is impressive, it’s a great thing.”