Through observing music-making sessions with children, families and staff participating on Ward 83 at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, spoken word artist Keisha Thompson wrote a series of 10 poems which Rosalind Hawley and Mark Fisher set to music. The children, families and staff taking part in the music-making were the inspiration for these musical poems.
The participants who took part in the six creative workshops were:
- 4th and 5th year medical students at Manchester Medical School
- Young artists/creatives (aged 18-30) at Contact Theatre in Manchester
- 1st year mental health nursing students at Manchester Metropolitan University
- Music leaders/musicians/facilitators at Brighter Sound music organisation in Manchester
- Students and staff at SOAS University in London
- Adult and mental health nursing students at the University of Chester.
The project aimed to:
- Deliver remote creative sessions with health, medicine and music institutions exploring the creative processes used in the artists’ collaboration and examining how these processes were informed by the interactions that occur during moments of music-making in hospital spaces.
- Create a network of diverse individuals and organisations from the music, health and further education sectors who share an interest in creative collaboration and evaluation that explore themes of lived experiences of health and music.
- Produce a final creative output in response to the workshop programme.
- Produce a website/blog documenting and profiling the project and providing an online space for interested individuals and organisations to come together.
Songbirds is a music programme delivered by Ros and Mark with nonverbal children and young people with complex health and communication needs at The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Keisha wrote and recorded 10 poems arising from an initial creative evaluation of the programme in 2018. The poems tell the stories of children, family and staff interactions with the musicians in hospital spaces, six of which the musicians added music to.
This pilot highlighted the potential for further artistic collaboration. Ros secured funding through Help Musicians UK as part of their prestigious Fusion Fund and the trio were reunited to develop a further phase of the project with the support of project manager Kate Catling. This new phase explores how artistic interpretations of experiences of music and hospitalisation can be used to share creative learning with wider audiences and break down barriers between music, medicine and healthcare.
The creative team delivered six creative workshops, sharing their creative learning and exploring themes of health and music with a range of groups from the health, culture and education sectors. The sessions took place remotely in line with Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.
Ros planned the workshop content, engaging with Mark and Keisha in a series of content development discussions leading up to the workshops and in debriefs following the workshops. This time enabled the artists to evaluate sessions together and discuss their learning from the responses of participants during the workshops. This learning informed the final piece they created in response to the project.
The workshops provided a space to share 1000 Days as an innovative creative evaluation methodology with artists, creatives, education and healthcare professionals. The sessions enabled participants to explore the artists’ creative processes and learn from their experiences and stories of health and music. In some sessions, participants composed their own creative responses.
‘[This project has allowed us] to reflect upon how we all collaborated in music and spoken word: what were our processes? How did the process bring space for new thinking and new reflection? How did it challenge our creative processes and enable us to develop further? What did we learn about how we create and respond in music? What was our responsibility in music and words to share the thoughts and experiences of those who shared in music with us, who told their stories and expressed their innermost feelings of hospital life and situations?‘ – Ros Hawley, 1000 Days Blog
Changes in the delivery of 1000 Days due to Covid-19 enabled a freelance emerging creative producer and musician, Jack D’Arcy, to work on the project and to join the artist team. Jack supported technical aspects of the workshops; this included ensuring that the remote workshops were accessible to a deaf musician taking part in the Brighter Sound workshop.
Workshop activity created a network of diverse individuals and organisations from the music, health and further education sectors who all share an interest in creative collaboration and evaluation that explore themes of lived experiences of health and music.
The initial pilot project resulted in the creation of 10 poems set to music:
‘I wanted to write this piece [“Pure”] because often when I spoke to parents, they said that in the hospital context, they were used to talking about their child a lot, but not in a holistic way, not as their whole selves. It was about their medical concerns and things like that, so when they then saw their children interacting with the music, it was like they saw their whole child come to life again. They got to engage with their personalities, and their emotions, in a way that maybe other situations hadn’t permitted them to do. It felt really important for me to do a poem that was about that, so that’s what “Pure” is about.’ – Keisha Thompson, 1000 Days Blog
‘In Conductor and Guiro Frog I felt it was important to reflect the immediacy and excitement created in sessions with children and families at the bedside on wards. Guiro Frog features some pretty random percussion on guiros (of course) and other small percussion instruments we use every day. I really like that it is written from the frog’s perspective.’ – Mark Fisher, 1000 Days Blog
‘Working with non-verbal children, Ros, Mark and Keisha have created art that is completely authentic. It’s in pieces like Conductor that this is most apparent. A conductor is something that is unique to the orchestra pit or the choir; often a role for the overly-educated or overly-privileged. 1000 Days have given that power over to children that have to face their own mortality on a daily basis.’ – Jack D’Arcy, 1000 Days Blog
The creative trio also worked together to create a final musical output in response to the workshop programme.
- Through creative and team planning meetings the musicians refocused and revisited the creative process of the initial 1000 Days project in 2018 to plan creative content for the workshops.
- Workshop sessions were recorded and transcribed.
- Breakout groups were given creative tasks during the sessions.
- Text-based feedback from participants was visually represented through word clouds.
- There was a full project team evaluation meeting which was recorded and transcribed. This evaluation focused on learning from the project, exploring what went well and challenges encountered, as well as next steps.
- A project website was set up which included a blog to chronicle and bring together each of the voices and observations of the creative team.
Through the 1000 Days project, Ros has strengthened and deepened her professional practice with Mark and Keisha, examining in detail their combined artistic approach to collaborating across art forms. The project has enabled Ros to bring this collaboration to health and arts communities and forge a network of individuals and organisations interested in its innovative approach.
Each artist reported that the project has challenged them creatively, providing a unique opportunity to develop their individual artistic practice, to articulate their creative process and share in a pioneering approach to creative collaboration, research, cross-artist and cross-sector collaboration with diverse audiences within the arts, health and FE sector. Importantly, 1000 Days has given the artists space to explore their own work, grow as individuals and raised their profiles within a range of cultural and educational communities. The project has created an invaluable space to explore musicianship, creative health and artistic collaboration which otherwise would not have been possible.
‘I went into the sessions keen to spread the word about creative evaluation. I wanted the medical students to consider [attaching] creative evaluators to their future projects and to encourage young artists to consider how their artistic skills could transfer to other contexts such as research projects. In one of the sessions however, I was asked how I got into the headspace of being an observer. It was then that realized that I had drawn from my background of doing Playback theatre; a specific form of improvised theatre that is often used for community work. A major part of the practice requires you to channel neutrality. Understanding how to be a beacon for others stories. Learning how to listen and be open to honour the teller … It is a great skill to hold someone else’s story without judgment.’ – Keisha Thompson, 1000 Days Blog
In email feedback, a young musician from Brighter Sound disclosed how he personally resonated and connected with the work through his own lived experiences of health struggles. As a result of taking part in the workshop he has been inspired to explore connections between music and health within his creative practice. We are sharing his personal experiences/words with his permission:
‘I spent 6 months on a hospital ward when I was 10 years old with Leukaemia… I would have loved to have experienced something like what you guys are doing when I was in hospital. Your session has really inspired me to engage with the connection between music, and its ability to ease and transform the ongoing pain and stress of the hospital environment into something beautiful and transcendental.’
Documentation and Dissemination
A website was set up to profile, document and share findings from the project including a series of blog posts written by each member of the creative team:
Project progress and updates are shared on the 1000 Days Twitter and Instagram pages.
Recorded compositions from the project are shared on the 1000 Days Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/m4h2020/sets/1000-days
Mouth sounds: The musicians recorded versions of children’s sounds used during bedside musical interactions: https://soundcloud.com/m4h2020/sets/songbirds-mouth-sounds
HELP Musicians, National Foundation for Youth Music, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital