Calming Music for Babies in Hospital
Baby R was crying as we entered her bay on the Heart Surgery ward at Leeds Children's Hospital. R’s parents explained that she had had a tough morning involving an invasive procedure and she had been restless ever since.
As we started playing Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, she began to settle and her oxygen saturation levels improved - they had been as low as 53 but increased into the high 70s, hitting 80 at times. Mum was watching the monitor as if she couldn’t believe her eyes.
We were encouraged to stay with the family for a long time, playing music that matched R’s energy and eventually, she was lulled to sleep. Her family were overjoyed and commented on what a huge difference the music had made.
When we went back into the space a little later, she was still asleep and they told us that her sats had stayed high since we had left. Other families with babies on the same bay also appreciated the change in atmosphere that the music had provided.
Changing the Atmosphere
As we walked down the corridor on an oncology ward, we saw an older boy (around 13) and two female relatives sitting on the sofa, all looking like they wanted some quiet time away from their busy bay. We asked the boy if he wanted us to play for them and initially he said no, but then said he wanted to hear the violin. Aisling played a brief solo tune and the boy closed his eyes and rested his head on mum's shoulder - a picture of relaxation. Afterwards, he requested the clarinet so we played together and the family enjoyed the music together, some crying, some taking the time to relax and all sharing the moving experience. We spoke to them afterwards and it turned out that the young man often listens to music on headphones when in hospital as a means of escape, and as a family they enjoy listening to music on the radio.
We went into their bay to visit the other families there and they followed a few minutes later to listen some more. Mum told us, "you really cheered him up", and again, the teenager relaxed in his chair, closing his eyes as the atmosphere in the bay was transformed by the music.
Making Connections Through Music
As we entered the main waiting area in Weston Park Outpatients, it was very quiet; although there were a few clusters of people waiting, there was very little chatter. We started with a calm, uplifting instrumental piece, and several people were immediately interested. We continued with a couple of tunes and songs which weren’t very familiar to the listeners, and one lady requested ‘Lord of the Dance’, which we then played. At this point there had been smiles and other signs of interest in the music, such as foot or finger tapping, but on this occasion it was the more familiar repertoire that really made the difference.
When we sang ‘Let There Be Love’, a number of people joined in, in particular three individuals who were positioned around the corner from where we were playing. The whole atmosphere changed, and as we moved so we could make eye contact with everyone and continued with more songs that they knew, there was a real sense of community as most of the people in the space sang together.
One participant wrote the following on a feedback postcard, really demonstrating the difference it had made for them: “I wasn’t looking forward to yet another waiting room full of people I didn’t know but when the girls started playing the music and singing every one of us became friends because we all had something in common. We all knew the words.”
We currently visit Weston Park Outpatients for one hour every fortnight.
The Gift of Music
We entered the bay, playing a chilled folk tune on clarinet and violin. There was a curtain drawn in the centre so we continued playing softly to the other occupants. The curtain drew back to reveal an older teenage lad, who sat back to listen with his eyes closed, a picture of relaxation. When we finished, he applauded loudly and said, 'that was wonderful’ as the rest of the bay's occupants smiled. During the course of this, the restless baby opposite the young man fallen asleep, much to the relief of their family, and we were later to learn that the bay as a whole had had a difficult night.
We offered the teenager our box of instruments and he joined in, playing sensitively and musically. On asking whether or not he played an instrument, he replied that he played the recorder, but hadn't done so for several years as music was not offered in his secondary school and he'd not had the opportunity to continue past Year 6. We taught him some basic ukulele and it quickly emerged that he was a natural.
Brightside Music are lucky enough to work with the Ukulele Kids Club UK, a charity which provides ukuleles for hospitalised children and young people. It was instantly obvious that our young man waiting for surgery was an ideal candidate, so we went back to visit him with a beautiful tenor ukulele that afternoon. Hospital staff and families on the bay applauded when he was presented with the gift and his face lit up. He downloaded an app to his tablet that helped him tune it and we helped him use it for the first time. He was very gentle with it and immediately demonstrated that he had a good ear, turning the tuning pegs gently until the strings were in tune. We taught him a version of 'Stay With Me’ by Sam Smith and left him to practise.
The next week, we were lucky enough to be able to visit the teenager again. By now, his surgery was complete and he'd had his IVs out of his hands, enabling him to move a little more easily. We embarked on adding a G chord to his repertoire of C, Am and F, which he found a challenge but was determined and willing to get right. He played along to the folk tune Autumn Sky and joined in on Yellow Submarine and the Lion Sleeps Tonight, singing when he could. He also had a fantastic voice. He continued to demonstrate his gratitude to the Ukulele Kids Club and to the music that had been such a distraction during the stress of his hospital stay.
Our teenage friend hopes to be sent home in the next couple of days so we won't see him again but we are so excited to have given him an opportunity that he would not have had otherwise. We're so grateful to the Ukulele Kids Club for allowing us to do this and making someone's hospital stay such a positive experience.
After months of planning, Brightside Music started work in hospitals in September and have now completed our first term. We spent last year as music in healthcare apprentices working with OPUS Music CIC, but this is our first time working independently and in new settings.
In some ways, our work at Leeds Children’s Hospitals has felt familiar as it is very similar to what we were doing with OPUS, but as well as getting used to working together as a pair, it is a new place with lots of new people and routines; so far we have visited more than ten different wards and departments! Due to delays with paperwork, we currently need to be accompanied by a member of hospital staff. It has been great to work closely with the play team and have their guidance while getting to know the hospital, but on the other hand it is sometimes frustrating to feel that we are taking up people’s valuable time or that we can’t make spontaneous decisions. Overall, we have felt very welcomed by everyone at the hospital and that our music is having a positive impact. Some of the highlights have included a young boy who joined us on the ukulele and followed us round the whole ward; a member of cleaning staff dancing around her mop to the beaming smiles of a young patient; a lively session with lots of children and instruments and song requests in the waiting area of the oncology day unit and the immediate engagement and smiles from a toddler boy who had been feeling very unwell, followed by a doctor’s comment that ‘the paracetamol and music are doing the trick'.
We have also started a project at the Outpatients Department at Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield. This is our first time working regularly in an adult setting and it is quite a different space to those we have been used to. We are playing in quite a cramped, busy waiting area, with staff regularly coming and calling people for appointments or lifts home. A few patients see us only briefly while they wait in the queue for reception or before they get called, but others may be there for the whole hour for which we are playing, possibly several weeks running. This has been good for getting to build some relationships and talk to people, and has forced us to challenge ourselves to extend our repertoire! We have had some really positive feedback from these sessions, the music offers distraction, brightens the mood and gives something to talk about. Responses have included lots of singing along, foot-tapping, smiles, laughter and tears.
We look forward to continuing this work next year.