'Seeing one kid giggle... that's the greatest sound in the world'

'Seeing one kid giggle... that's the greatest sound in the world'
Mateo Messina
SEATTLE -- When you hear his work, it's hard to imagine Mateo Messina struggling to make his first recording. After all, the Seattle native has composed music for several movies including Juno and Thank You for Smoking.

But it was rough in the beginning, and Messina had to get creative to make his first recordings while in college.

"I made my first three records by sneaking into the university's studio between 11 p.m. and 7:30 a.m., while the university (Western Washington) was closed," Messina recalls. "I paid the engineers beer and pizza."

He was just beginning a journey that he hoped would lead to bigger things.

"I saw them building Benaroya Hall downtown (Seattle), and every time I'd pass it, I'd say to my friends 'Oh I'm gonna play there someday.'"

Messina's talent and ambition did lead to a concert at the hall during its inaugural season, but his true passion wasn't tapped until he had a conversation with a former boss.

"He goes 'I don't know if you've heard about this, but my daughter recently passed away of a brain tumor,'" Messina remembers.

While that may seem to be somewhat of an "over-share," there was a point coming that would forever change Messina's outlook on music, and on life.

"She was at Children's Hospital," Mateo's former boss continued. "They made the last year of her life amazing. They have a piano in the playroom there."

Mateo bit.

For the last 12 years, when he can get out of Los Angeles, he volunteers at Children's. Everyone knows him as he walks into the brightly colored room, and after and exchange of waves of greetings, Mateo strolls around to the other side of the room, and sits down at the piano.

"Kids come up to the bench, I plop 'em down on the bench next to me, we hang out and we play duets," he says with a big smile. "We write songs about anything: Elephants, butterflies, farting, anything we can think of."

He and the child will sit there for up to an hour. And whether the lucky kid realizes it at the time, or later in the day, Mateo Messina has just given that child a 60 minute escape from whatever drama life has dealt the young one. It's a gift many consider priceless.

He told me the story of a quiet little girl, so shy, but eventually, he was able to talk her into joining him at the piano.

"She was giggling and would not stop, and she wasn't leaving at the end of the playroom session, we were having so much fun," Messina says. "And her dad was to the left of the piano at the end, and I look over, and he's just in tears. He comes over, and he hugs me, and he thanks me. He said she had a rare case of Strep, and she had just lost her vision... and this is the first thing she's reacted to."

I watch as his eyes begin to glisten.

"That's what keeps me here," he says softly. "That's what brings me back all the time, that's what makes me love being a part of this organization."

As if using his music as medicine wasn't enough, for the last 12 years, Mateo Messina has used his music as a fundraiser for Seattle Children's, benefiting the "Uncompensated Care Fund." This year's concert at Benaroya Hall is Friday, Nov. 5. Tickets are still available at http://thesymphonyguild.org to see the brand new "Primal Symphony" Mateo has written just for this occasion.

And while he's excited to debut his latest work, in the back of his mind, I know Mateo is likely excited about something else. He's very likely looking forward to his next opportunity to sit down next to a sick child who needs a true friend.

"Hanging out here on the piano bench, and just seeing one kid giggle," he says with a smile. "That's the greatest sound in the world to me."