Message in a Bottle on Ward 81, the Burns Unit

Ruth Spargo and Cecily Smith, our Fledgling musicians have completed two residencies on Ward 81, the Burns Unit at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. The first was in September last year and the second in January to February this year. They have written about the inspiration for the project, the magical world of music they created and some of the challenges they faced working in such an isolated department. The featured image shows an example of the art work in the Burns Unit created by Lime Art (photos copyright Lime Art):

Ruth Spargo and Cecily Smith took music onto the Burns Unit at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.  We used the existing art on the ward as a creative starting point and designed a theme of a magical ship journey. We called the project “Message in a Bottle” After initial meetings with play staff, nursing staff and psychologists we also had creative sessions together to prepare repertoire and plan the sessions.

During the project we went onto the Burns Unit 5 times over the 3 weeks, working in bay areas and isolation rooms, as well as the Outpatients Burns Clinic for one session. We worked with children and parents to make music together, and encouraged children to come up with their own ideas for the music. Feedback from patients and staff was collected with help of the play staff and psychologists.

Creatively speaking, the theme came from the artwork that is in the bathrooms of the Burns Unit, and the treatment rooms of the Burns Outpatient Clinic.  The art work is magical and incorporates lots of motifs and ideas: fish, vegetables, Arabic archways, and reminded us of ideas of a magical world.  From this we created music that reflected this, thinking about using the theme of a magical boat journey as a basis for encouraging children to engage with the stories and come up with their own ideas. With this theme in mind we came up with the following repertoire for the project:

Byssan Lull – a traditional Swedish lullaby about being on a ship and having a treasure chest.

The lyrics are:

“Byssan lull, koka kittelen full, sjökistan har trenne figurer.

Byssan lull, koka kittelen full,sjökistan har trenne figurer.

Den första är vår tro, den andra är vårt hopp, den tredje är kärleken, den röda”

And this translates roughly to:

“Byssan lull, boil the kettle, the treasure chest has 3 figures,

Byssan lull, boil the kettle, the treasure chest has 3 figures,

The first is trust, the second is hope and the third is love, the red one.”

Skye Boat Song (Trad.) – we modified this to fit the theme, using just the chorus:

“Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing, Onward the sailors cry, Carry us on to where we will sing, Travelling through the sky.”

Emer’s Dream (Colm Mac Con Iomaire) – originally an instrumental version for two cellos; we expanded on this and used voices as well:

September In The Rain (Warren & Dubin) – chosen to give a sense of the changing seasons for children who were in isolation and perhaps less aware of the outside world.

“The leaves of brown came tumbling down, Remember, In September, In the rain. The sun went out just like a dying ember, In September, In the rain.”

We couldn’t use the cellos in the isolation rooms, and so focussed on using larger percussion instruments, such as the circle drum or chime tree, as our main instruments, and also had smaller, accessible percussion for anybody to use.  We also used our voices extensively during each session, and for two sessions we only used one cello between us when working in the bay area. Twice, we made music in the corridor for the nursing staff and also to encourage interest from patients and families, but getting interest in this way proved difficult as the doors were all kept shut, so the amount of music heard was limited.

This is the link to our Soundcloud page where we have recorded a couple of songs that we used on the ward.


Heart Strings on Ward 76

Megan Collis and Polly Virr, our Fledgling musicians have recently completed a residency on Ward 76 and have written about their experiences and one particular magical moment with Baby B:

During the final afternoon of our Fledglings Residency we once again shared some wonderful musical interactions with patients and their families. Being a Friday afternoon, the ward was particularly quiet as the majority of patients and families had been waiting for several hours. After spending 45 minutes or so playing music in each of the bays, Polly and I decided to go into the pre-op waiting area where there were many chairs and tables being occupied by families (several of whom were asleep!). Bearing this in mind, we thought it would be suitable to keep the music rather gentle and soothing.

We approached Baby B who was only a few months old and being held in a relative’s arms. Both her and his mother smiled and nodded as we asked whether they would like to hear some gentle music. I began to play an instrumental version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the relative lifted up Baby B so he could see the cello and violin more clearly. His eyes were transfixed on the instruments and he began to blow bubbles through his mouth, which his relative said he does when he’s calm or happy. Whenever the music would ascend in pitch, his eyebrows would raise and his mouth open slightly and he was so calm when listening to the music.

As we developed the piece, we went into playing the traditional folk song Baloo Baleerie which made him smile. We repeated the verse part of the song two times before going into the chorus. As the harmony changed and the melody went up (the highest we had played) Baby B began to momentarily cry, but not for being sad. He was so invested in every note of the piece, that he expressed each phrase in his facial expressions and pitch of voice. As soon as the harmony resolved and he knew the melody, he smiled and each time it was repeated, his smiled widened. After a short while, he became increasingly sleepy, so we kindly thanked his relatives and slowly left.

It was such a special interaction to be part of and highlights the ever increasing sense of purpose and benefit that live music in hospitals carries. Throughout each session of my residency, I was continuously encouraged and fulfilled; not only as a musician, but in how willing the patients, families and staff members were to share the music.

We had the privilege of playing to many families during one of the most difficult times in their lives and their responses were always of gratitude. We noticed more times than not, a sense of relief and serenity that came from playing music with patients, families and staff and we will be forever grateful for getting to share those experiences with them at the RMCH.