July marked the North East launch of Music in Hospitals, an inspirational charity bringing professional live concerts into hospitals, hospices and care homes. It’s new to the region, but was founded in 1948, thanks to Sheila McCreery, who was inspired by her time spent organising musical entertainment for wounded servicemen. After seeing the huge difference it made to patients, she launched a pilot project involving 22 famous artists who would perform in hospital wards. The Council for Music in Hospitals was born. Today, the charity enlists the musical skills of thousands of professional musicians nationwide – and this number is set to increase as they expand within the North East with the appointment of Alison Forbes as Fundraising and Development Manager.
‘We really believe that music has a very important part to play in healthcare in general and there’s nothing like this going on in the North East,’ she explains. ‘There are people going into hospitals and playing music, but not quite the same as what we do – we take professional concerts into healthcare settings.’
The charity is already a huge success across the country, having organised over 4,000 concerts last year alone. It’s hand-picked professional musicians play live concerts promoting the psychological and therapeutic importance of music as a means of reducing stress, generating emotion and stimulating relaxation. But above all, the charity aims to brighten the lives of the people they meet. ‘Our mission is to raise people’s spirits and make them feel happy,’ Alison says. ‘Our concerts really cheer people up’.
But how do they choose who gets to make the music? ‘What we’re looking for is musical excellence alongside a quality you can’t teach people – a real warmth and an openness,’ she explains, ‘Being able to engage people of all ages, sometimes with a terrible illness or disability.’
Music in Hospitals carefully select musicians through auditions, and often mentor new musicians by teaming them with others. Musicians working for Music in Hospitals are all professionals in their chosen field, but for everyone involved this is so much more than just your average gig. They arrive early to meet and greet their audience, and always stick around to chat afterwards, with the aim of helping to reduce the isolation often felt in longterm care. As the music plays – be it anything from jazz to pop to blues – there is audience engagement through singing, dancing and percussion playing.
The charity celebrated its North East launch with a free concert by the Andy Kain Duo at North Tyneside General Hospital. Since being chosen to work for the charity in the North East, Alison Forbes has been working hard to establish partnership links with a number of different groups including the Alzheimer’s Society, Newcastle Society for Blind People and NHS trusts, care homes and hospices. These links mean that the work of Music in Hospitals can reach a broad variety of people, regardless of illness, age or disability.
What makes Music in Hospitals so inspiring is the enthusiasm from all of those involved. Although it‘s hard work organising and raising funds for the project, Alison says the reception she gets from people who watch the concerts makes it all worthwhile.
‘We organised a concert last week and there was one elderly lady who was very quiet and shy at first’ she says. ‘Halfway through the concert she was smiling and singing along to every word... To see the power of music really lift someone’s spirits like that – that’s the real reason I’m doing this job.’
Music in Hospitals is working with Newcastle Society for Blind People to hold a series of free musical concerts for adults with a visual impairment in Newcastle. These concerts will take place monthly at Disability North’s Dene Centre (near the Freeman Hospital) on the second Tuesday of every month. Contact Marjorie Prince for more information firstname.lastname@example.org.