Wishing well. Music in hospitals.
I recently attended a five-day intensive training course hosted by Wishing Well who gave training to ten musicians to enable them to play music in hospitals.
Every musician was unique, flexible and adaptable to many different musical environments but this training challenged us all.
“It’s only recently that music has become a cerebral activity.” A polite listening experience followed by a somewhat robotic round of applause. Being shushed at open mic nights, classical music gigs or bizarrely at a Fugazi gig was common to see, for me anyway.
“The feeling of music should be processed internally, we have trained ourselves to appreciate music in a civilized manner.” Stravinsky, Beethoven and countless other composers have all the raw passion of any rock band. The excitement, the musical twists and turns yet we are expected to sit still and motionless whilst the sentiment of this emotional music spills from the orchestra.
It is common for musicians to have barriers, security at rock, pop gigs. The elevated stage where the musician performs acts as a barrier. If music is really meant to communicate it would be nice if no barriers existed. Even as musicians it is possible to hide behind other band members or even our instruments. We can allow the instrument that we are meant to express ourselves with become a barrier for musical communication.
At the training we were expected to play for one person only whilst the other trainees watched. We sat in a circle and waited for our turn and played to the person who was sat five spaces down from us clockwise. The awkward approach to your listener, the strange eye contact, hyper awareness of others and always checking your body language. Feeling exposed, alone, no hiding place, how to end the song and when? when to smile? when to make eye contact? You don’t want to eyeball someone the entire time like a crazed folk singer busking for change. A very new and difficult task for us all, something that I have never experienced. Watch a master at work. If you want to challenge yourself then try it. Next time you play engage with one person only, see if you can make that connection. It is intense, strange and something you may not be very comfortable with but you won’t forget it.
The training reshaped ego’s and preconceptions of what music is and what a musician is supposed to be. Yes, we may all have been capable of amazing musical feats but the training allowed us to step outside our comfort zone and perform uninvited. We had to work hard for the invitation from patients and it was not always forthcoming. No one had paid or even bothered to show up to hear us play as musicians. Essentially we had invited ourselves into their space and it is a difficult task to make it comfortable for all. It was highly important for us to remember who we were performing for in a hospital setting, playing to entertain yourself will get boring quite quickly. You may find yourself playing the “Bare Necessities” or “The Wheels On The Bus.” I’m not sure if that’s a daily task for some of you but it certainly isn’t for me. The more you open yourself to the experience, the more you will benefit.
A common theme during the training was “playing with” and “playing for” patients. You enter a room whilst playing, maybe an underscore or an ostinato on the instruments. If you make contact with a patient and he joins in you are “playing with”. You can compose a spontaneous piece with his interactions. Allowing the patient to be the creator of the composition , they are free to express themselves as they wish and you provide the accompaniment. You are communicating through music, talking with no words, only your instrument. Awareness of your body language, facial expressions and at what height you stand are of up most importance. Children look at you strangely at first but music has the power to create bonds of trust very fast.
On day four of the training it was my turn at leading an interaction. It involved a young boy with limited English. He touched the guitar with curiosity and trepidation, always seeking assurance and comfort from his mother. His mother seemed so happy for the distraction. Spending all day in a ward with the alien sounds of machines that cannot help but be intrusive and strange to a child’s ear. I suspected that maybe we as unknown and uninvited musicians, may also be classed as intrusive. I have to say that on the wards I was made to feel most welcome by staff, parents and children. After a short time, the child forgot about the setting and his mothers comfort. He was joining and playing with me. Strumming the guitar, using a rain stick and satisfying his musical curiosity. It was a sad sight to leave him. As he wished us goodbye he stuck his face to the glass door which separates the children’s ward from the rest of the hospital. It was almost like he was stuck in a jail of sorts. His freedom and that of his parents is limited, interaction with anyone other than hospital staff is a rare occurrence. Music created a welcome distraction, a chance to express pent up feelings by the children. A chance for empowerment, autonomy and an opportunity to bring families back to a normality for a brief period. Music can help strengthen family bonds in hospital but most of all it brought a chance to have fun in an atmosphere heavy with worry and anxiety.
What are the benefits of projects like this?
In Nigel Osbournes’ video, Music and Trauma, he explains how music and particularly when singing, can use 100 percent of the lungs. Music can help reduce anxiety and control of the breathing during bedside procedures. Osbourne calls music, “the machine of human empathy.”
- “Singing gives off more information about oneself, confesses more about who I am and what I am about more than words.”
- “Music helps children regulate themselves.”
- “Music is highly interactive and uses more parts of the brain than any other activity.”
With all the research and positive results, it startles me that the music in hospitals in unfunded by the N.H.S. Such a therapeutic activity is somehow overlooked. It benefits not only patients, but families, siblings and the hospital staff themselves.
I believe it’s time that we make use of the beneficial effects of music and encourage more musicians to use their talent in the healthcare setting. Music may not heal medically but it’s a great aide that helps the healing process immensely.
If you are interested, many scholarly articles are available on the internet about the therapeutic effects of music and music in healthcare.
To find out more information or make a donation to Rhythmix or the Wishing Well project:
More information on the wishing well project can be found here.
Daniel J Levitin. This is your brain on Music, Plume/Penguin 2007.
Nigel Osbourne, Music and Trauma
 This is your brain on music, Daniel Levitin.
 Nigel Osbourne Music and Trauma
Wishing well. Music in hospitals. I recently attended a five-day intensive training course hosted by Wishing Well who gave training to ten musicians to enable them to play music in hospitals. Every musician was unique, flexible and adaptable to many different musical environments but this training challenged us all. “It’s only recently that music has become a cerebral activity.” A … Continue reading Music in Healthcare