The Singing Medicine project
The Singing Medicine Project has been enjoyed by youngsters with life-limiting conditions at Birmingham Children’s Hospital for 14 years, but what were the specific benefits and could this inform provision elsewhere? This project used interviews with parents and families of children attending the hospital and the professionals who support them to find out how these activities can benefit children’s lives.
The Singing Medicine project is an award-winning scheme that is delivered weekly to all wards and in-patient areas at Birmingham Children’s Hospital by vocal tutors from Birmingham choir Ex Cathedra. The team has developed some special repertoire and ways of working to enable children with life-limiting conditions to participate in, and benefit from, the singing activities. Singing Medicine has been delivered at BCH every Friday since November 2004 and Dr Blackburn obtained funding from the Froebel Trust to explore the benefits of the project in terms of children’s wellbeing and their right to make choices.
Aims of research
This research study aimed to explore the views and perceptions of parents and professionals who care for and support children who participate in the Singing Medicine project. The intention was to find out how the project helps children to engage in playful activities, make choices and bond with their families in a hospital environment, as well as how the project maps against Froebelian principles for the education and learning of children.
Method of research
Dr Blackburn interviewed parents and families of children attending the hospital and the professionals who support them. In total five parents, one sibling, one adult who attended the hospital as a child, three play workers, two chaplains, two consultant paediatricians, one research nurse co-ordinator, one family liaison nurse, one clinical lead nurse (PICU), one haemodialysis unit sister, one physiotherapist and one teaching assistant were interviewed.
It was found that participating in the Singing Medicine project provides health and well-being benefits for children, families and professionals working in the hospital. It contributes to children’s learning and development (including neuro-development), family relationships and experiences of their hospital stay, provides a distraction from pain and discomfort, and provides positive memories for families if the worst happens and children do not recover.
The implications are that more participatory music projects are needed in health care settings. This is echoed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts Health and Wellbeing who say that “more and more people now appreciate that arts and culture can play a valuable part in helping tackle some of the most challenging social and health conditions. Active participation in the visual and performing arts, music and dance can help people facing a lonely old age, depression or mental illness; it can help maintain levels of independence and curiosity and, let’s not forget, it can bring great joy and so improve the quality of life for those engaged.” (Lord Bichard of Nailsworth, 2016 cited in APPGAHW, 2017b: 47).