For seven years I was the resident creative musician at Evelina Children’s Hospital. Working across respiratory, cardiology, intensive care, high dependency, orthapedics & neurology.
There are many special stories demonstrating the power of music but here are a few of the most memorable for me.
An eight-year-old boy had been told that he had to have both of his legs and amputated. At the time the only thing he would interactive with was music. Over the coming weeks we used creative music making to help him express his feelings and then we worked with physiotherapists so he could compose his own CD with 10 tracks to do his new leg exercises. The physiotherapist told us exactly what he needed to achieve and with him we composed music together. Many weeks later I remember walking on the ward and there was a boy running towards me, he had learnt to use his new prosthetic legs.
I had been told by the play specialist that a family was finding it difficult to settle into the ward. I approached them and asked if they had any particular music that they liked, the dad of the family suggested a few songs, and then the other family members suggested theirs. Then the whole bay began joining in with music making. There was a great community feeling. The next week I saw the play specialist and she told me that after that music session the family had settled and she was able to break the ice with the family and begin helping them.
We had a creative music making session with the children on dialysis. Dialysis can be a very boring process as the children are hooked up to machines for several hours to clean their blood. On this occasion we recorded the sound of their blood going through the pipes and then made it into electronic drumbeats. The children then composed songs expressing their feelings and we composed songs and recorded them on a CD. The whole bay was uplifted.
Sometimes parents have to be sat by their children’s beds for many months and this can become very tiring for them, so we set up a parents violin group. Once a week parents would come and learn to play the violin, giving them time to have fun together and have a little respite. The sessions were extremely good-humoured and we learnt a few new skills.
I spent ten years with Guildhall School of Music students giving workshops at:
Whips Cross Hospital in Walthamstow
Royal London hospital
Barbican and Guildhall School of Music and Drama Residency
Students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, alongside Luke Crookes, facilitator from the Barbican, continue their residency, entertaining children with fun, interactive and inclusive music sessions in the Children’s Play Space.
UCH University College Hospital
Haven House Children’s Hospice
I did many hospital workshops for the music charity create. Here is a video demonstrating the use of creative music making to empower patients.
Facilitators clearly understood the wide range of our students needs. They included all the students throughout the soundtrack work. Allowed students to respond/interact in their own time which is so important for SEN students.
Highlight for me was they way they empowered a very withdrawn student to lead/conduct the session. This was massively positive for him and subsequently has changed his attitude to school in hospital.
Here are some short stories of outcomes from The Royal Free Hospital
Supported by the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers
10 stories to give you an overview of the benefits of our project.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Group
Patients attend classes to learn breathing techniques. They perform group warm-ups and then a series of exercises, following this they attend a lesson on breathing techniques and things to do at home.
Music can be used therapeutically by performing concerts in the waiting area to help people feel more relaxed. We use singing, breathing and stretching techniques to add depth and value to the exercises they already do. As the patients perform exercises we add rhythm and melody to distract patients from the pain and monotony of doing the exercises. The beat can provide motivation for the patients and the communal feeling of the music uplifts.
Outcome: the concert in the waiting area went down very well. The warmups energised the group and then patients went off to perform their own exercises individually around the room. The music seemed to provided cohesion and the beat held everybody together and individual musicians travelled around the room using a variety of techniques to help people have a better experience of the exercises. I played long tones to a man who had to lift his legs and hold them in the air for a certain number of seconds, this then started a game as the gentleman realised he could control my breathing and bassoon playing through his legs, which in turn motivated him to stretch his ability to do the exercise. Another lady had to stretch material to expand her chest, so the violinist mirrored this action by playing the glissandos on the violin.
Osteoarthritis Knee Class (large gymnasium)
Patients perform a series of exercises in gymnasium to improve their ability and flexibility. They can find these exercises a little bit monotonous and boring.
In this context music can distract from pain, provide motivation to do exercise, and certain types of music can provide positive mental image (especially when the music is known too and liked by the patients)
The performance of music in the gym completely changes the atmosphere. At one point we performed salsa music and three ladies on exercise bikes began to move to the beat of the music, as the music is live we can be flexible and watch to see if we need to slow down the music. As we go round the room we ask patience of any particular song they would like us to perform, this inspires conversations.
Gymnasium Orthopaedic. Amputees
Patients learn to use prosthetic limbs, they must strengthen their muscles and learn to balance in a new way. This is a highly sensitive situation as people may be suffering from depression due to their new circumstances. Physiotherapists need to work individually with each patient to provide them with exercises and education on how to use and develop new abilities.
Music in this context can provide a type of relief from an otherwise depressing situation. We can use music to mirror the patients exercises, providing motivation and distraction. Balanced musical phrases can also inspire patients to balance on their new limbs.
Outcome: as a group we performed Ravel’s Bolero, a gentleman was balancing on a bar and began to perform ballet to Bolero. Staff also enjoyed the music making.
Mary Rankin Renal Dialysis Unit
This is a highly sensitive situation, patients are arriving to be hooked up to a machine for many hours. This experience can be depressing and draining.
Music in this context can provide an outlet for emotion. We can use creative music making to help patients explore, express or provide a peaceful mood.
Outcome: firstly we performed in the waiting area. It is very tricky to judge what and how to play in this context. People’s moods are very fragile and difficult to read. We performed a series of very quiet pieces always keeping an eye to make sure we’re not upsetting anybody. Later we performed by peoples beds, this provoked a variety of reactions from tears to joy. In this situation we must work closely with staff as they know the patients very well and can judge if the patient would be up for music making or creative songwriting.
One lady placed her hand on her head as she heard the music and said “and it brings me peace”. Another lady cried at a performance of ‘Danny boy’ she said “it was my father’s favourite song”. “It’s nice isn’t it”, “can you do some African music”. Over all the music was very well received.
Patients are ready to return home but for one reason or another cannot do so. They are sat up in bed or in a chair by their bed in bays of four people.
Music in this context can bring everybody together and uplift the whole room. Workshop games and activities can inspire reaction, response, stories, jokes and generally bring everybody into a positive space. Creative song writing processes allow people to share their stories and sing together.
Outcome: at this point we had acquired a box of percussion instruments. As a group we went into the centre of the day and handed out instruments to patients, staff, nurses, doctors, administration staff, family and friends. We taught everybody a song and at one point there was 20 people singing at the top of their voices. Staff were surprised at some of the patients reactions; one lady could not stop singing.
Later we moved to a small room for creative songwriting. Each patient told us about stories of where they had been in their lives, we wrote sentences down, and as a group found rhythms and melodies to create a song. Many staff came into the room amazed and inspired by what they heard.
Marie Curie Hospice
Music in this context can provide a focal point for conversation, group sharing, group singing, storytelling and performance.
Outcome: the staff were very welcoming and assisted five patients in getting to the day room. One patient began to tell us of her life throughout the war and we played war songs. This inspired many interesting and amusing stories. We could develop more creative ideas with the patients and show how music can have a long-term impact on the well-being of the patients. As we left the area a gentleman walked up to us and said “although my wife could not get out of bed she enjoyed your music making” this just goes to show that music travels down the corridors and into the rooms of other people, hopefully causing a positive ripple effect.
General enquiries desk
The general enquiries is a busy area. The use of music in this context is to spread some happiness, put smiles on faces, and give people something to talk about.
Outcome: the lady behind the information desk said “this is fantastic, people only usually come here to complain” Many people stopped, listened, sang, laughed and danced. The desk is just by the lifts and this caused people waiting for the lifts to laugh and chat to each other.
The main reception is where people first enter the hospital, their first experience of the hospital.
The use of music in this context is to quickly take what maybe a negative experience and turn it into a positive experience. Lightening peoples moods and inspiring them to sing.
Outcome: the effect on passers-by was quite dramatic, at one point a man stood with a child on his shoulders singing along to the music. A member of staff made a point of stopping and telling us how positive and uplifting the music making was.
Antenatal reception area
People are in the waiting area and many of them have small children.
Music in this context can help adults relax as they sit waiting and music can provide creative activities for children.
Outcome: the antenatal staff were extremely happy for us to play and very welcoming, Many staff came out of their rooms and into the reception area to enjoy the music making. We performed a children’s workshop on a carpeted area in the reception space, which was very successful.