A stunning week of music training in Nottingham - music in healthcare settings


I've just come back from a week in Nottingham where I attended a course called 'Music in Healthcare Settings', ran by the very inspiring OPUS Music and in association with the Nottingham Queens Hospital. Wow...where to begin...it was one of the most inspiring, moving and affirming weeks of my life.

There were 9 attendees on the course, all professional musicians who already work or have an interest in working within community settings, with a particular interest in learning more about the place for Musicians in healthcare settings.

The week was nothing short of magical and quite emotional! Our trainers were Nick Cutts- Founder of Opus Music, and Sarah Mathews and Richard Kensington. Three incredible engaging trainers with an infectious passion for what they do and all ridiculously talented musicians.

The course was five days in total, the first two of which were spent in a 'class-room' setting (sitting in a circle, of course!) discussing many of the theoretical and ethical sides to music making in a hospital setting, peppered with some lovely music making ice breakers consisting of vocal and instrumental improvisations.

Among the group were cellists, violinists, percussionists, guitarists, vocalists, bassoonists, harmonica and ukelele players so we were not short of a tune that's for sure- a melting pot of musical deliciousness.

With two intensive days of getting to each other under our belt, on day three it was time to leave our little classroom haven and practice all the amazing theory and ideas we'd been discussing and practicing. We headed to the Queens Hospital children's ward and worked in groups of three muscians throughout the ward. It was a very different style of music-making than I have been used to in my community work thus far. A very gentle approach, centred around us (the musicians) being 'invited' into the space. It requires a huge amount of self and situation awareness as it's an environment that is heavy with medical procedures, intense conversations and a great deal of emotion too. I found it quite strange even being there with my guitar at first, a little awkward, not knowing where to put myself. We moved around the ward going from bay to bay, the three of us playing our instruments softly, making eye contact with patients and very importantly, the parents, picking up signals whether or not they'd like us to come closer and play some music for/with them. It's a really delicate balance, but as the session wore on it began to feel more comfortable and I began to see our place as musicians in the hospital. We had decided on a core repertoire that we would use which consisted of Twinkle Twinkle, Grand Ol Duke of York, Sunshine in My Heart and Three Little Birds.

Afterwards we debriefed with the rest of the group about everyone's different experiences on the ward. Debriefing in this line of work I find is so incredibly helpful and essential for a professional and reflective practice. It's such emotionally charged and heavy work, and we give a lot as musicians, that being able to talk and share experiences afterwards allows us to release anything that may have been challenging so we don't continue to carry it around and then possibly bring it into our next session.

We went back to the hospital on day four and worked in a different trio of musicians. I had some truly amazing connections with some of the children on this day- I think because I was feeling more comfortable and confident about my role as a musician in the hospital, I was opening up more to the children. I really got a glimpse of the impact we can have on the staff, carers and patients when:

Musician trainees descending down the hospital corridors

There was a small child who was due to be discharged, however needed to have an injection before going. The child really didn't want this and was crying and kicking about. The parents looked quite stressed as they had another small child who was there and was starting to get temperamental and impatient and pulling at different cords and things. One of my music colleagues started playing on her violin Twinkle Twinkle above the cot for the baby who was needing the injection. I knelt down and started playing my guitar, singing and dancing with the other small child, she started giggling and dancing back with me, as her little sister calmed down, transfixed on the violin that was being played above her head. The nurse completed the injection, the parents calmed down because both of their children were entertained and occupied- everyone won :-) That moment really clarified for me what my place was in the hospital and how it could be very valuable to the different people who use/work in the hospital.

On the final day of the training we were in our class room space again and this day was dedicated to reflecting on everything we'd learnt and experienced on the Children's ward. I felt truly blessed to have been on the course and can clearly see how I can apply these practices to my current work in Care homes with the elderly. My greatest learning of the week and one I know I can remember (as my head gets pretty full sometimes!) is simply this:

Take time.

This really stuck with me. So often it can feel like I need to cram loads into a session as I'm concerned my participants may get bored or think 'she doesn't know what she's doing' (my on-going inner monologue!) but especially when working with vulnerable people and in healthcare settings, it's so important to hang back, assess the situation and proceed gently. Give people time to adjust to your presence, allow for space just as much as sound. Taking time also allows you to get a sense of the overall picture - what mood are people in, notice the slight shriek made by someone at the sight of the guitar, notice the worried look on that mothers face about the test results she's just received from the doctor about her little boy- probably not the best time to swoop in with a version of Grand Ol Duke...then again, look at the little boys face and mood...maybe it's the perfect time.

It was to date, the best week of my life...big call I know, but it's true. It was so affirming to know I'm exactly where I want to be musically and professionally. It was also very affirming in that I felt incredibly valued as a musician offering my music as a therapeutic tool. The hospital

An amazing week with amazing musicians and trainers...can't wait to put all my learning into practice here in Brighton & Hove!

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