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.


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