My name is Angela Kang and I have taught and researched about music at the University of Nottingham, University of Hong Kong, and currently at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance where I teach and design modules for the opera degree programme. As a flautist, pianist and accordionist trained in the classical music tradition, I maintain a strong interest in how music can improve physical health and well-being.
A little smile can be the beginning of a musical adventure. It can open a door to interact with a child patient and create beautiful sounds which will gently filter down hospital corridors. Today we knocked on the door of an isolated room, and sensing a rather curious and friendly little girl with a beaming smile, we started to gently play music. After a while, we picked out a glockenspiel and some shakers from the percussion box and showed her the sounds that could be produced. She happily took these instruments from us and began to take part in the music making. Her relatives were clearly delighted to see her enthusiastically and creatively join in, as were we. Beginning with a soothing guitar medley, the delicate sound of the ukulele and glockenspiel added a glistening touch. Underpinning this was the lively and spirited sound of the bodhrán, accompanied by melodious accordion interludes.
It is sometimes nice to be fortunate enough to be able to see there and then the immediate positive effects a musical interaction can have on parents and their children. In the afternoon, we all softly sang ‘Sunshine’ in 4-part harmony to another little girl cradled in her father’s arms. As we wandered off to the next ward we all heard the father continue to sooth his daughter singing the very same song – and of course that left all of the OPUS musicians with a big smile.
Creating music in a clinical setting forms relationships of two kinds: first, those which are created between the sounds and, secondly, those which are created amongst the participants. As professional musicians, we must use our musical intuition and skills in order to produce quality music aimed for a very particular situation (eg, a parent carrying a child on a hospital corridor, a dialysis ward with a large central open space, or even a child patient undergoing some form of treatment in an enclosed area). A heightened sensitivity and empathy towards listening and perceiving situations is crucial. Creating music in these situations involves very careful listening and communication between musicians; sometimes we are located in awkward areas of the ward and not necessarily in close proximity. An acute sensitivity to changes in volume, harmony, texture, rhythm, and melodic direction is paramount, especially amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital ward. There is also the desire to create music that is appropriate for the situation and that can gently welcome patients, carers, and staff to participate (if they so wish). When this delightful moment happens, we forge a unique and special relationship with all the participants. One cannot predict what lasting effects these moments will achieve. If it provides a momentary sense of relief, relaxation, or positive distraction from the humdrum of the clinical setting – that can only be a good thing. If it provides a charming musical memory to talk about, or a sense of pride felt in contributing to a musical piece – that also, can only be a positive.