They had to finish the concert.
Sophie Fellows, a wispy 9-year-old with a love of the violin, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last week, a day after she was stricken with a painful headache in the middle of a holiday concert in Vermont.
With her surgery scheduled for Friday, her friends and music teacher filled a room at Boston Children’s Hospital Thursday, performing a Christmas concert that was both sweet and tenderly sad. They wanted to give back something that had been taken away.
They were joined by Sophie, who scooted across the floor in her red socks and flitted up three stairs to the stage. With a nervous smile and a Santa hat over her blonde hair, she tucked her violin under her chin, took a half breath, and with her bandaged right arm, began to play with the assembled orchestra.
As they played a Christmas medley, through “Silent Night,” then “Frosty” and “Rudolph,” with Sophie front and center, many in the crowd wiped away tears.
“I really don’t know of a better Christmas story,” Sophie’s teacher, Carolyn Bever, who runs a violin studio in Burlington, Vt., told the crowd.
The idea to hold the concert came after Bever and students at the violin studio heard that Sophie had been taken to the hospital. They wanted to lift her spirits and show how much they cared. Maybe, if Sophie felt up to it, she could even join them.
At first, Bever thought she would come down to Boston herself, thinking she and Sophie could pass the time by playing some tunes together. But her students quickly made it clear that they were coming, too.
“We were all devastated,” said Madison Corkum, 16, from Essex Junction, Vt. “She is such a sweet little girl, so full of life.”
In a flurry of texts and e-mails, a caravan was organized, enough to carry some two dozen students on the four-hour trip to Boston for the performance.
It all came together in about 30 hours, even as a major snowstorm hit the Burlington area.
Soon, an entire orchestra was in place.
Bever said she has taught Sophie for five years and has become immensely fond of her. Sophie is a talented musician who learns quickly and practices hard, she said.
“She’s the sweetest, cutest, brightest girl,” she said, her voice breaking. “We all just wanted to be here for her.”
Megan Shields, 17, said students at the studio have played together for years. “Everyone is really close,” she said.
Students said they all knew how much Sophie loves to play in the orchestra, and knew she would be sad over missing last week’s concert, even under the circumstances. So they had to set things right, at least for a while.
“I know she’ll be happy to finish the concert,” Corkum said.
Jennifer Belisle, who has two children in the orchestra, said they insisted on going. They would miss school, basketball practice, and work. But none of it mattered, so off they went.
“When you are part of a large family, you do what you need to,” she said.
Liliana Goumnerova, a pediatric neurosurgeon with Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, said doctors won’t know whether Sophie’s tumor is malignant until the surgery. Her prognosis is unclear.
Before Thursday’s show at Boston Children’s Hospital, as students fiddled with their Santa hats and played a few chords, Bever prepared the students. This wasn’t a typical concert.
“We’re just playing for Sophie’s family,” Bever said. “We’ll run through all the songs Sophie knows.”
Then Sophie arrived, straight from her hospital bed to the stage, where she saw a little girl in the orchestra. They smiled at each other, but just for a moment. There was a show to play.
As her parents and sisters looked on, worry etched on their faces, Sophie stood straight and tall, her eyes locked on the strings. They played old favorites, and people started to sing along.
Then came a beautiful rendition of Pachelbel’s “Canon,” whose strains seemed to carry all the fear and hope and love that filled the room. Everyone stood and applauded, and Sophie bowed.
When she looked up, she saw the whole room for the first time, and a full smile spread across her face.
After the show, her mother, Aimee Fellows, said she was deeply moved, and humbled, by the show of support. In a distressing time, it was a godsend, she said.
“We’re just thankful we could watch Sophie finish her concert,” said Fellows, of Colchester, Vt.. “This was a good distraction for us.”
Sophie hugged her family and said hi to friends. The show had been great, Sophie said, and she was thrilled everyone had come so far to be with her.
“It made me feel really happy,” she said. “It was really fun to do the concert.”
She was a little nervous about the surgery. But her doctors said it would make her feel better, she said.
“And this made me feel great!” she said, her eyes sparkling.