With your help, we can bring the joy of live music
to thousands more people across the UK
With your help, we can bring the joy of live music to thousands more people across the UK

Music and medicine at Bristol’s Southmead and Cossham hospitals


A man with a lifelong ambition to play the guitar finally strumming his first chord; a family singing together in tuneful three-part harmony; a proud Welshman moved to tears by a folk song which reminded him of home: incidents such as these are not what you might usually expect on the wards of a busy city hospital, but are now becoming commonplace thanks to a new collaboration between Live Music Now and North Bristol Trust’s Fresh Arts programme.

Since April 2018, Live Music Now musicians have been spending two days each month at Bristol’s Southmead and Cossham hospitals, performing for a wide range of patients, from those undergoing regular dialysis treatment to people in intensive care. The project is part of the wider Fresh Arts programme of arts activities within the hospitals, which also includes a range of visual arts activities, a popular knitting project and a dance group for people with Parkinson’s disease. The aim of the programme is to use creativity and the arts to make a positive difference to time spent in hospital: providing moments of relief from stress and boredom; enabling shared experiences for staff, patients and visitors; and recognising each patient as an individual with their own interests, skills, hopes and dreams.

Musicians involved to date have come from a range of musical genres, from classical harp and string players to folk musicians and singer-songwriters. Patients’ responses to hearing live music on the wards are almost all positive, with many joining in with singing, foot tapping, clapping along and sometimes even dancing in the corridors. The music can bring tears, too, and Live Music Now’s musicians received training at the beginning of the project which included considering how their music might affect listeners, and how they would respond to people’s reactions. Ward staff often stop and show their appreciation, as do visitors, for whom the musical performances provide a welcome relief from their anxiety about loved ones.

Fresh Arts and Live Music Now are keen to work together to collect more information about the effects that music has on patients and staff. Using the Arts Observational Scale (ArtsObS) we will be taking a more systematic approach to evaluation, focusing in particular on the impact of music on patient happiness, distraction from boredom or pain, social interaction and self-expression. By making regular observations of patient reactions, we hope to build up a picture of what is most effective in hospital settings, and to use this to continue to develop and improve the programme over time.