Liam Merriman facilitating a workshop at the Active Therapy Unit in St. Otteran's Hospital. Photo by Hugh O’Brien Moran.

Liam Merriman facilitating a workshop at the Active Therapy Unit in St. Otteran's Hospital. Photo by Hugh O’Brien Moran.

Eamon Sweeney and Alison Sleator performing in Waterford Regional Hospital as part of the WHAT Healing Sounds programme. Photo by Hugh O’Brien Moran.

Liam Merriman and Jane O’Brien Moran facilitating a workshop at the Active Therapy Unit of St. Otteran's Hospital. Photo by Hugh O'Brien Moran.

Liam Merriman and Jane O’Brien Moran facilitating a workshop at the Active Therapy Unit of St. Otteran's Hospital. Photo by Hugh O'Brien Moran.


WHAT’s participatory music programmes are accessed primarily by clients of Waterford Mental Health Services and Brothers of Charity Services. Participatory music sessions have also been delivered in the Waterford Regional Hospital Special Care Baby Unit reaching premature babies and their parents and the Renal Unit where people have long and potentially tedious sessions in the Renal Dialysis Ward. Patients, visitors and staff of Waterford Regional Hospital form the audience for Healing Sounds performances.


The aims of the WHAT music programme in keeping with the overall aims of the organisation are:

  • To facilitate access to and participation in the arts
  • To create professional development opportunities for artists to produce new work and engage new audiences within healthcare and community contexts
  • To reduce anxiety and stress for patients, visitors, and staff through integrating art into healthcare environments
  • To forge closer relationships between hospital professionals and between the hospital and the wider community through the arts
  • To take the lead in the field of Arts and Health in the Republic of Ireland through education, research and professional development


Healing Sounds

In 2011, WHAT established an annual panel of musicians to deliver the Healing Sounds performances. These live music performances take place on a monthly basis in Waterford Regional Hospital with musicians performing in the main foyer of the hospital and then moving to the wards and outpatient clinics. The approach has been influenced by the methodology of Musique et Sante, France, whereby musicians read the varying contexts, engage with patients and perform responsively. Thus, the repertoire varies according to the nature of the patients and immediate environment.

Participatory Music Programme

In 2006, WHAT collaborated with Musique et Sante, France, and Arts for Health, UK, on a music exchange programme entitled ‘Music in Hospitals’ involving musicians from France, Ireland and the UK. This in turn led to WHAT’s first music residency in 2007 with Kevin O’Shanahan, and, in 2008, to the establishment of a team of musicians to facilitate music workshops in various locations throughout Waterford Mental Health Service, Brothers of Charity services, WRH Dialysis Ward and Special Care Baby Unit.

WHAT’s participatory music programmes, through interactive song singing, performance and improvised music making with a wide range of percussion instruments, strive to include all those who wish to get involved at the venue where the work is being delivered. Music workshops are structured in blocks of 5 to 10 weeks and some are run on a one-to-one basis with mental health clients referred by staff who have a particular interest in music or are reticent about participating in group sessions.

Continual Professional Development Programme

To ensure the delivery of high quality music programmes within WHAT and further afield, WHAT provides continual professional development (CPD) opportunities for musicians and healthcare staff including:

  • Mentoring of WHAT musicians and peer critique with a focus on ethics and boundaries
  • Music workshops for nursing staff of Waterford Mental Health Services
  • Training for Healing Sounds musicians
  • CPD workshops for musicians working in healthcare settings throughout Ireland

WHAT has also facilitated ward-based learning experiences for musicians undergoing Music Network’s CPD programme.

Artistic Outputs

WHAT’s Healing Sounds programme hosts monthly music performances in the foyer, wards and clinics of Waterford Regional Hospital. Some of the participatory music programmes in Waterford Mental Health settings and with clients of Brothers of Charity also result in small performances for peers and/or the public.

In May 2013, following the 2006 ‘Music in Hospitals’ programme, a second residency entitled ‘Music in Hospitals – 7 Years on’ brings together key musicians including Philippe Bouteloup, Ros Hawley and Kevin O’Shanahan from the original project to exchange knowledge and experience between WHAT and visiting musicians through co-facilitated workshops and a public talk that shares the legacy of the original ‘Music in Hospitals’ programme.

Evaluation Methodology

WHAT’s music programme is continuously evaluated via feedback from staff questionnaires, musicians’ reflective journals and meetings.

WHAT is piloting a system of gathering feedback from participants based on a Likert system which allows WHAT to take both a qualitative and quantitative measurement of participants’ experiences.

Evaluation Outcomes

In ‘Crossing the Line’ (2008), a published evaluation of Kevin O’Shanahan’s music residency, the following outcomes were recorded :

  • 80-90% of participants at the music sessions in the Mental Health Settings where music was being offered in Waterford said that they would like to return.
  • An average of 10 participants attended at each of the sessions in the two Mental Health venues where this research was being carried out.
  • Staff at these venues reported that music sessions were the easiest of all the activities offered to motivate the clients to attend.
  • 79% of the participants at the music sessions reported that it made them feel happy.
  • 67% of the participants at the music sessions in the Department of Psychiatry reported that it made them feel energized.
  • Of the staff in the Mental Health Care settings 67% reported that they felt clients were more talkative after the music session.

In conclusion, the evaluation pointed to the transformative impact of music in mental health settings in terms of mood, social interaction, communication and motivation.

Documentation and Dissemination

The 2006 European exchange programme ‘Music in Hospitals’ was documented as a DVD that has proved to be a valuable learning tool in the field of music and health. Similarly, the 2013 ‘Music in Hospital – 7 Years on’ residency project will also be documented through film and will be available through

The evaluation of Kevin O’Shanahan’s residency was published as an article entitled ‘Crossing the Line’ by Kevin O’Shanahan and Mary Grehan in the Psychiatric Nurses Journal in 2008.

More information on WHAT’s music programme can be found at


Waterford Mental Health Service,  Waterford Regional Hospital

Project dates

On-going since 2000.

Lead organisation

Waterford Healing Arts Trust (WHAT)

Funded By

The Arts Council


Waterford City Council

Waterford County Council

Music Network

National Concert Hall

The Ireland Funds


Jane O’Brien Moran, Joe Harney, Jordan’s Rigout, Kevin O'Shanahan, Leah Clark, Liam Merriman, Mary Prendergast, Philippe Bouteloupe, Ros Hawley, Sharon Moore



Healthcare context(s)

Acute Hospitals, Children, Maternity Hospitals, Mental Health, Older People, Training & Education

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory, Performance, Residency, Training/ Continuous Professional Development



Web link


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