Derbyshire Children’s Hospital

Music in Healthcare Settings Training

It’s the final day of our 5-day music in healthcare training today, and we’ve had a great time exploring the skills and competencies required to deliver this work alongside a fabulous group of trainees. We’ve spent time in the training room exploring, alongside many other things, repertoire, improvisation and ethical principles behind this practice. We’ve also spent a couple of afternoons at Derbyshire Children’s Hospital, playing music for and with patients, visitors and staff on surgical and medical wards, in the neonatal unit and in A&E. Final day today bringing all our learning and experiences together. Many thanks to our trainees for embarking on this journey with enquiring minds, a spirit of adventure and enthusiasm, and a real passion for this practice.

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

New music in health residencies

As you’ve probably noticed from our lack of blogs recently, OPUS is currently on a summer break. While we’ve not been in the hospitals so much over the past month, much has been going on behind the scenes to finalise arrangements for our new residencies beginning very soon. Thanks to funding and support from Youth Music, Nottinghamshire County Council and Leicester City Council, we are delighted to announce new long-term residencies in children’s wards at three new hospitals beginning in September. These will take place at Leicester Royal Infirmary, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham and Kings Mill Hospital in Mansfield, with OPUS musicians visiting the hospitals on a weekly or fortnightly basis. This is planned to continue until at least March 2014, though we hope to sustain these residencies beyond this date. We are extremely grateful for the support of our partner hospitals and our funding partners in making these new residencies possible. OPUS has busy and exciting times ahead, with existing residencies continuing at Derbyshire Children’s Hospital and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals alongside training programmes for musicians and healthcare staff. We’re all really looking forward to it!

Friday 20th July

We began our morning’s work in the Sunflower Ward, as has been our habit for the last few weeks. We trialled a new tune “Astley’s Ride” which worked well in 4 time with the potential for patients to join in and turned into a waltz quite easily too – much to explore with that one in the future?

We entered the post / pre op ward behind the reception area with some caution. A young boy was being asked to take some medicine by his father, and he appeared worried about this prospect. A mother lay curled up in a chair, waiting for the return of her child. A three-year-old girl sat with her mother, obviously distressed and possibly feeling sick. Another little girl sat with her parents at the end of the room, and a teenaged girl lay apparently sleeping. This was quite an array of different situations presenting themselves at the same time in the one room, so some careful consideration was needed as to what music to play and with what character and volume.

We chose “Mari’s Wedding”, normally a jolly polka, but we started it as a relaxed and calm waltz, knowing that if the mood required it we could pick up the pace and change the dynamics according to the space. We played around the tune and improvised the melody and structure about 5 times as we slowly moved down the room. However, it did not seem appropriate to change the tempo and mood, so we remained in three time.

The little girl at the end of the room with her parents engaged with us and locked an intrigued stare with me as i played the piece and moved towards her, the teenager awoke slightly and lay in bed listening. The little boy relaxed and took his medicine and found something else to play with. The distressed little girl cried more, cuddled with her mother, relaxed and almost drifted off to sleep by the time we left the room.

It was only a matter of minutes that we were in that space, but it felt as though our music had provided an opportunity for the mood of the whole room to transition from distressed to relaxed; from unrest to calm. Hard to quantify something like this, but I was moved to tears on exiting the room.

Friday 29th June work at Derby Children’s Hospital

First thing in the morning, and Rich and I found ourselves starting our musical day as a duo this week – five string fiddle, voices, bodhran and ukelele. We began by playing in the open waiting room area of Sunflower Ward, where there were some staff and parents and grand parents conversing in sign. We played for a while, assessing the potential for moving into one of the pre/post op wards next door. After that piece we moved into one of these wards to play for two families waiting with young people in bed – there was much tapping of toes and nodding in approval of our music. Just when we thought we would end our Sunshine song and move on, a younger child returned from a procedure upset and crying, changing the mood on the ward completely. Rich and I matched the volume of the child and continued playing – the child connected with our music within 30 seconds and began to calm – there was good eye contact and visible relaxation of the patient and we then brought the volume and pace of our music down to take the mood to an even more relaxed state. Eyes began to close and parent and grandparents thanked us for being there – quite a special few moments!

Music in Healthcare Settings Training, Derby: 25th-31st October 2012


OPUS Music CIC is currently engaged in a residency at Derbyshire Children’s Hospital. This residency has been in place since December 2010, with OPUS musicians visiting the hospital on a regular basis to make music for and with patients, visitors and staff.

From September 2012, OPUS will also deliver new residencies within children’s wards at Leicester Royal Infirmary, Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham and Kings Mill Hospital in Sutton in Ashfield.

These residencies are supported by funding from Youth Music, Derbyshire Children’s Hospital, Nottinghamshire County Council and Leicester City Council with additional support from all partner hospitals, Derbyshire Music Education Hub, soundLINCS and Natal percussion.

As part of this programme of activity, OPUS is offering training for musicians who already work in, or have an interest in working in healthcare settings. Whilst this training will focus primarily on working with hospitalised children and young people, the theoretical background and practice will also be of benefit to those who wish to work with other age groups.

Following the training, there may be opportunities to join OPUS musicians in delivering musical interventions in healthcare settings as part of these residencies or in other programmes of work. We cannot however currently offer any paid work beyond this training.

Training takes place on 25th, 26th, 29th, 30th and 31st October 2012 in Derby, UK. This training programme is subsidised through project funding and as such we require payment of only £75 total for the 5 days of training (payable on acceptance onto the course).

‘I came away from the course with a desire to start doing this work in my own area – it was some of the most fulfilling music work I have done.’
‘I have found understanding in an area that seemed so out of reach before. I have broadened my horizons and developed my passion for this area further.’

‘Really valuable training. The best I’ve done with youth music.’
‘Thank you very much for a brilliant course!!’

Music in Healthcare Training opportunity Artists Brief (pdf)
Music in Healthcare Training application form (pdf)
Music in Healthcare Training application form


Derbyshire Children’s Hospital residency – feedback

Some recent feedback and comments from our residency at Derbyshire Children’s Hospital.

First a card sent to the hospital by parents…

‘Thank you so much for the fantastic care and support you gave us whilst —— was on the ward. She had some lovely moments with the doctors, nurses and musicians! We cannot thank you enough.’

Lovely to be seen as part of the ‘team’ alongside the doctors and nurses.

More feedback from a parent this week…

‘Absolutely fantastic! Cheered our daughter up no end – better than medicine! Thankyou very much – keep up the good work! :-)’

We certainly will.

The eyes have it…

Derbyshire Children’s Hospital – 15 June 2012. When we’re working as musicians in the hospital, eye contact is critical to us, not only between ourselves as musicians, but also with patients, visitors and staff. A glance from a patient can invite us into their space, give us an indication of their comfort with our presence and give us a clue as to ‘how we are doing’. We often find ourselves using sympathetic eyes – matching a patient’s contact with our own, and negotiating a closer collaboration through eye ‘communication’. Sometimes we can encourage participation or simply smile with our eyes. So much is communicated in this way, and we often reflect upon how our training and experience allows us to use eye contact as a valuable tool in our practice.

Yesterday at the Derbyshire Children’s Hospital we were confronted by the best eye ‘communicator’ we have perhaps ever encountered in the form of a very young baby – only a few weeks old. He had just woken up, and nursing staff had come to find us to ask us to play for him. He was brought out of his room by his parents, carried by his father to meet the three of us (Sarah, Richard and myself). He was at first somewhat agitated, however as we began to play, the three of us lined up playing over each other’s shoulders so as not to crowd the scene, the baby fixed his gaze, as so often happens, upon Sarah’s viola. He became suddenly very calm and purposeful with his wide-eyed gaze, and the whole environment became very calm as doctors and nursing staff looked on. After a minute or so, the baby purposefully moved his gaze to Richard’s bodhran, insisting that Richard come closer to play. Again, after a short time I was also ‘invited in’ by the baby as his stare moved first to my right hand on the guitar, and then to my left hand. Throughout this time baby, mother, father and the medical team were all very calm and peaceful as we all enjoyed the musical moment together. Finally, the baby moved his gaze upwards towards his father’s eyes, as clear a sign as ever that it was time for us to go, and that it was time for the baby to be with his father. We moved slowly away, leaving a peaceful scene behind with an incredibly connected father and baby.

Music had brought people together in a unique way within this scene, and had allowed the baby an opportunity to orchestrate his own environment which was respected and followed by everyone. All through the eyes………

First Session in Children’s A&E

On the 1st of June we were very pleased to be invited down to do some playing in the waiting areas of Children’s Accident and Emergency department. We spent about 45 minutes there in the afternoon and had some good musical interactions with the children who were waiting there. When we were reflecting on how the day had gone we all agreed that the space had a very different feel to the other wards. Unsurprisingly so, as the children who were there had almost certainly not got up that morning expecting to spend any time in hospital that day! Anxiety levels were higher among the children and they were more reticent about engaging with musicians. There was a lot more ‘playing for’ than ‘playing with’ in that space but the music did seem appreciated. We had some nice comments from parents and a number of people thanked us as we left the spaces. We now know that children’s A&E has a different pace to other wards and the patients who are there are in a very different state of mind to many of the other patients that we work with. This area has opened up another exciting and interesting challenge for us as musicians working in hospital.