Shadowing OPUS musicians in hospital

I spent two consecutive Fridays shadowing the Musicians from OPUS on the children’s wards at the Royal Derby Hospital. On the first Friday the instruments that the musicians performed with were the guitar, a bodhran drum, ukelele and the melodeon. The second Friday the melodeon was replaced by violin. The musicians would travel from ward to ward performing a mixture of songs, such as “sunshine in my heart” and “wind the bobbin up”, as well as an array of instrumental pieces.

We also brought a trolley filled with various percussion and melodic instruments, these instruments were dispatched to the children whenever a musical connection was established. The musicians also had a designated play area on one of the wards where these instruments were laid out and the children were able to explore and express themselves whilst playing with the instruments.

Whilst observing the musicians in these various settings I was able to witness how the personalities of the children impacted on the music and vice versa. For example: when they were working in the designated play area, one particular child cautiously started playing with the instruments, warily experimenting with the volume and sound of the instrument. As the child interacted with the instruments they seem to be testing the musician’s reactions. This opened a gateway of communication for the musicians, allowing them to instil confidence in the child’s expression with the instrument. The musicians achieved this by mimicking back to the child what they played on the instrument. It was interesting to observe how some children became excited and others became more thoughtful in their musical expression after this communication had taken place.

Another interesting observation I made whilst shadowing the musicians as they travelled around the wards was, how the songs and the instrumental pieces produced different effects. The instrumental pieces seemed to create a deeper connection with the children and their families. On many an occasion emotions were unveiled by the instrumental pieces. Whilst the songs seemed to act as more of an interlude, almost having an element of play attached to them.

As the musicians went from areas of play to, areas where children were suffering with serve illnesses, I was able to witness how the musicians musically sensed the environment. They seemed to know whether a song or an instrumental piece was required in order to connect with the children or individual child. This displayed a deep sensitivity to the children’s physical and emotional situation. It was a very powerful and positive experience that has left me with many new questions and profound memories.

Sarah Steenson, July 2012

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