‘It reminded me I had a life to go back to’: Music in Hospitals & Care9:21, 13th December 2018
Music in Hospitals & Care (MiHC) delivers high-quality live music to people who wouldn’t normally be able to access it. As the charity prepares for its 70th anniversary, Lucy Thraves spoke to chief executive Barbara Osborne to find out more
What does MiHC do? Where does the charity operate?
MiHC provides therapeutic live music sessions all across the whole of the UK – from the Shetland Islands to the Channel Islands, including Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Our concerts aren’t limited to just hospitals; we work in all aspects of care, including hospices, schools for students with special educational needs, care homes, and day centres. The idea is to bring live music to people who aren’t able to go to concerts due to health conditions or disabilities.
MiHC is celebrating its 70th anniversary. What does this landmark year mean for everyone involved?
We’re really excited to be celebrating 70 years, and are using the opportunity to encourage people to celebrate with us and support us. There are so many ways the public can help: music groups and choirs can dedicate a concert or gig to MiHC; you can donate as an individual to help fund our concerts; or gain sponsorship by taking part in or organising your own fundraising event or challenge – a little goes a long way!
Our website has a dedicated page about how you can help us celebrate our 70th – visit www.mihc.org.uk/birthday/ for more details.
What makes a good MiHC musician?
The key thing is good communication. We’re looking for musicians who are highly skilled and professional, but who are also sensitive and engaging. They need to be able to adapt to performing in unconventional spaces, and using the resources and space available to maximise communication and connection with listeners.
They also need to be versatile and adaptable. If, for instance, the audience in a care home responds well to a particular style of song and are singing along, it’s nice if the musician can offer more of this. Of course the musician will go into the venue with a set list in mind, but it’s lovely if he or she can adapt this to respond to the mood of the room if need be.
MiHC musicians don’t all fit into the same box, however; we have a huge range – from relaxing jazz singers, to charismatic boogie-woogie pianists, and a wealth of classical performers who divide their time between professional orchestral commitments and working for MiHC.
The common denominator is that all of these musicians are professionals, and have the ability to deliver a high standard of music for therapeutic benefit.
How was the charity developed and changed over the years?
Sheila McCreery, an employee of the then recently established Arts Council, first conceived the idea of a project bringing live music into hospital, following the closure of the Entertainments National Services Association in 1946. Sheila organised a successful pilot project of 22 concerts, before the Council for Music in Hospitals (CMH) was established in 1948 with a grant of £1,000. The policy at the time was to provide concerts of ‘serious’ classical music, generally chosen on behalf of the patients by the ‘Medical Superintendent’ of the hospital.
By the late 70s, more musicians were being brought on board with wider repertoires – from jazz to popular music – to appeal to a wider audience in different healthcare settings, as well as hospitals.
CMH was rebranded to Music in Hospitals in the late 90s, and last year we added ‘& Care’ to our name to reflect the many different healthcare venues that we visit every day.
‘The calming music temporarily blocked out the unpleasant hospital noise. It reminded me I had a life to go back to’
What’s an example of a project you’re particularly proud of?
We’re so proud of our pioneering ICU-Hear project, in which musicians play for patients in intensive care units. When one of our trustees, Helen Ashley Taylor, was in hospital, she was struck by the sensory overload from the sounds, sights and experiences that came with a prolonged stay in intensive care. She recalls: ‘There was one moment of hope and relief from the agonising hospital sounds of the ICU that has left me convinced there is a role for high-quality music in the care and after-care of critically ill patients. When I was finally moved off the ICU onto the High Dependency Unit, I heard a few minutes of singing – beautiful, harmonious, melodic, organised sound. The calming music temporarily blocked out the unpleasant hospital noise. It brought me into the present. It reminded me I had a life to go back to.’
The project originally piloted at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 2017, but is being rolled out across the UK. Musicians are carefully selected and offered training so that they feel prepared for playing in this kind of setting. Patients in ICUs are often dependent on machines and tubes, and may have undergone traumatic experiences, so it’s really important that the musicians are able to cope with this. We have a good support network for the musicians, too: there is a Facebook group and regular Musicians’ Days where they can share their experiences.
What does your job as chief executive involve on a day-to-day basis?
All sorts of things, from managing funding flows to supporting concerts. We have offices across the UK – in Walton, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff – so I make sure everything is working well across the board. It’s so rewarding to see everything in action.
Do you have any plans for MiHC in the pipeline?
Our main aim for the future is to find ways of delivering to more patients. We’re looking to increase the frequency of our projects and concerts into more healthcare settings across the UK. As a charity we are reliant on voluntary funding from individuals and grants from Foundations and Trusts to help us deliver these.
An example would be the Lullaby Hour sessions, which originated at the Children’s Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. The sessions can help the children to settle, soothing their anxiety and the anxiety of their parents, too. We’re looking to roll out more of these across the UK, thanks to funding.