Front row (from left): Event honorary committee chair Frank Jacobs, Peter Martin, Arianna, honorary committe chair Randy Costas and Tom Eschen. Back row: Brian Owens, Erin Bode, Sterling Bank's Ken Poteet, Maryville president Mark Lombardi and honorary committee chair Marylen Mann.

A truly great song can break and warm your heart simultaneously. Despite her age—or perhaps enhanced by it—7-year-old cancer patient Arianna has created just that while in the hospital. The opportunity wasn’t a musical miracle: It was Maryville University’s Kids Rock Cancer.

“We work with children with cancer on a number of levels,” says Tom Eschen, Maryville’s VP of Institutional Advancement. “It’s a diversion. It makes them feel better and forget about the chemo and the treatments. For an hour and a half, they are a rock star.”

Arianna—known fondly as Ari—is practically a Kid’s Rock Cancer Hall-of-Famer, and she is looking forward to this month's 'I'm With The Band!'  concert to benefit the program. 

According to her mother, Lori Zucker, Ari has created four songs with the program throughout her almost four years of treatment. “It was such a nice break,” Zucker says of the recordings. “For her, she totally can forget about what’s going on.”

Ari’s breakout single, Cheesy Booty, was inspired by the puffed rice snack, Pirate’s Booty—an understandable muse for a 3-and-a-half year old. We’re Gonna Ring That Bell, her next track, was recorded with another patient in reference to the bell patients ring after finishing treatment. Camp Rocks, Cancer Sucks featured Ari and her two older brothers, and the trio was even able to sing the song at a fundraiser for Camp Rainbow. Her latest track, You Can Get Through It, is written for other children with cancer. After four years of treatment, Ari has words of wisdom and thoughts of hope to share, and she has done so through song.

“We have had an amazing experience,” says Ari’s mother, noting she is often kicked out of the hospital room by her daughter so the song can be a surprise. A portable sound studio comes right to patients and consists of a laptop and basic music programs. “We’ve talked about the desire to put a permanent spot in these hospitals, like a recording studio, and it would still be fun to do—but the reality is that for some of these kids, even leaving their hospital room is too much,” Eschen says. “It just depends on how well the kid is doing.” In some cases, children have been well enough to leave the hospital and record at St. Louis’ Shock City Studios for that professional musician experience.

This 3-year-old Kids Rock Cancer program was inspired by the Texas organization, Purple Songs Can Fly, but features one major difference: a music therapist. “The actual process is therapeutic,” Eschen says. “The songwriting process is as important as the final product.” Tracie Heuring-Sandheinrich, a board-certified musical therapist, is the face of the organization to the children and helps with lyrics, background music and, of course, recording the albums.

The ‘I’m With The Band!’ benefit concert, featuring artists Brian Owens, Peter Martin and Erin Bode, takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22, at The Sheldon. The event is sponsored by Sterling Bank, Moneta Group, Stone Carlie, Butler’s Pantry, and Al and Julia Hammerman. Tickets are available through MetroTix, 534-1111 or

More Charities & Non-Profits articles.