The ‘ripple’ effect of live music in hospital wards

Tuesday 25th August 2015 2:03AM

“It was very touching to see how the music effects relationships between the patient, their loved one/carer and ward staff; it acts as a bridge that brings people together and captures a fleeting moment that can then stay with everyone for a long time to come.”

The Royal United Hospital in Bath has been booking LMN musicians regularly for many years, on its wards and in public spaces. Their ‘Art at the Heart’ programme is led by Hetty Dupays and her team, and includes a diverse range of artistic programmes and activities. It is supported by the Joyce Fletcher Charitable Trust.

LMN’s Executive Director Evan Dawson met recently with Hetty to consider the impact of the music there. She said that, “ward staff always say that the atmosphere after a music session is more relaxed, patients are less agitated and staff need to spend less time calming patients. The immediate effect of the live music has a ‘ripple’ effect that lasts for hours, and in some cases longer.”

Hetty subsequently sent us this moving and vivid account of a visit by LMN’s group ‘Paperhorse’ (Zeb and Sam Haynes) on 19 June. We hope you will enjoy as much as we did!

I was really looking forward to hearing Paperhorse performing at the hospital. We have wanted to book a performance with them for some time, but I had no idea what to expect! Zeb and Sam were waiting in their performance space when I arrived. They would perform for half an hour in the Atrium at the RUH’s main entrance which is a large space where the music can carry through to reach upper floor corridors and wards. The atrium has a cafeteria and there were approx. 50 people plus hospital traffic of people; trolleys and wheelchairs a constant in the background.

Zeb and Sam played guitars and a beautiful African drum and their repertoire ranged from popular 60’s hits including Dream and Twist and Shout, to their own songs; which we all thought were equal to the all-time hits that they played.

They played and sang at full volume most of the time, everyone loved it and clapped after each song had finished. We have complaints sometimes about the volume of arts performances in this space, but on this occasion they were only enthusiastic comments. Zeb and Sam have a very endearing approach and are immediately likeable. As well as their musical abilities they know how to make eye contact, smile and engage the audience. In fact they seemed to enjoy it as much as the public!

One visitor comented: “Paperhorse- happy uplifting music. I videoed them to play to my husband on the ward. Thank you, such smiley faces!”

Next we went to ‘Midford’ ward which is specifically for older patients, many of whom will also have dementia. The ward is spilt into 4 bays and they spent 10-15 minutes in each one. When we arrived it was early afternoon and the patients were very sleepy, but that didn’t last for long. I think they opened their set with ‘Twist and Shout’ and by the time they moved to the next bay the patients were singing along, tapping their feet and applauding every time they finished a song. Zeb and Sam seemed to be energised by this response. One patient, who was lying in bed and was generally very agitated, but was known to love music, managed to dance with her arms, legs and feet. Staff also danced in the corridor and often went to sit with a patient and sang along to songs, holding hands; it was very touching to see how the music effects relationships between the patient, their loved one/carer and ward staff; it acts as a bridge that brings people together and captures a fleeting moment that can then stay with everyone for a long time to come.

It was hard to get Zeb and Sam away from Midford Ward but the next visit was to Combe Ward, where patients with very severe dementia are treated in a specially designed Dementia Friendly Ward. Equally patients, their families and staff loved them and one lady followed them around to each bay so that she didn’t miss anything. It was clear that Zeb and Sam were both exhausted but elated at the end!

Art at the Heart has been running a programme of live music performances (generously funded by the Joyce Fletcher Charitable Trust) for five years and in all my experience of hosting these events, I have never seen such a response or come away feeling so uplifted.

Ward staff often say that after a music performance the atmosphere for the rest of the day is much calmer and happier and I imagine that Paperhorse must have made their whole weekend better; it certainly did mine; I know I will never forget it“.

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