Colgate Key Notes Bring Music Therapy to Children Affected by Cancer

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A new Colgate University student group is performing Disney-themed virtual concerts for children in hospitals across the country. The Colgate Key Notes, founded by first-year students Dilni Pathirana and Sammy Perez, pride themselves on their mission to make hospitalized children smile.

Pathirana and Perez met during pre-orientation, hosted by the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE), and they volunteered with a variety of community organizations. But they were most moved by the Kids Educational Youth Services (KEYS) program: a music therapy nonprofit based in Sherrill, N.Y. 

“We’re both really into music,” says Perez. “The day that we went to volunteer, Dilni and I immediately knew that we had to be a part of the KEYS.” So they established the Key Notes as a chapter of the organization.

“Anyone who wants to join is welcome,” says Pathirana. “Whether they play an instrument or sing, we are happy to have them.”

Both Perez and Pathirana sing — Perez is a member of the Colgate Resolutions — and Patirana plays piano, too. They bring these talents to the Key Notes, which now consists of a 10-person crew, including two guitarists: Kyle Born ’26 and Ranya Sareen ’24.

The group has already streamed a series of solo, duo, and ensemble performances, tailored to each child. In February, the Key Notes sang for Raelyn, a seven-year-old girl with a history of heart surgeries. They sang several of Raelyn’s favorite songs, including “Let it Go,” from Frozen and “Colors of the Wind” from Mulan. A slew of approving comments came from the stream’s 1,000 viewers — including Raelyn. 

“During the concert, she was singing and dancing along,” says Pathirana. “She’s just a ball of light.”

The Key Notes find strength in people, including campus partners. They remain affiliated with the COVE under the guidance of its director, Jeremy Wattles. Volunteerism, especially that which supports cancer patients, is a cause personal to both Pathirana and Perez.

“A few members of my family have been affected by cancer,” says Pathirana. “So the mission of bringing joy to kids who are affected is very meaningful to me.” 

And to the Key Notes, it’s all about the kids. 

“These kids are so young, and it’s inspiring to see how strong they are,” says Perez. “It’s such an honor for us to find any little way to try and make their day better.”