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Scales & Tales

In the paediatric ward of Cork University Hospital, artist Fiona Dowling is telling a story about a greedy pig who eats everything in sight as the children and their families create sound effects with different instruments and musician Caoimhe Conlon accompanies the action on the flute. ‘You’re such… You’re such a pig!’ Fiona cries, mimicking one of the villagers. ‘Well, thank you!’ the children reply, right on cue…

Providing children and teenagers with the opportunity to express themselves creatively in the hospital environment is at the heart of Scales & Tales, a six-month residency of music and storytelling at Cork University Hospital. Launched in May 2011, the project is produced by Helium in partnership with Cork University Hospital Arts Committee and in collaboration with MusicAlive.

Once a month, Caoimhe and Fiona invite the children of the paediatric department together with parents, siblings and hospital staff to engage with musical instruments in making stories and characters come to life. The children can choose an instrument from the musical trolley and make their own sound effects: from bongos to bells, xylophones to maracas, and everything else in between, the children are given an artistic outlet in a relaxed and informal environment.

The Storyteller, Fiona, recounts one recent experience in the ward, ‘We visited a little girl of about 9 who was with her adult brother. We told her a story and then distributed musical instruments all around, inviting the girl to make her own piece of music and bringing the other performers in and out of the music by giving them a nod. By the end of it, the child was glowing and chatty and delighted to have made a piece of music and to be in charge, giving the nod to her brother and to the two performers.’


Photographs by Samantha Hunt

There are a number of different aspects to the Scales & Tales project: the children also contribute to the stories with suggestions as to what sweets or vegetables the greedy pig might eat, for example; alongside facilitating the children in creating their own music and sound effects, Caoimhe plays name that tune on the flute with the Pink Panther theme song being a favourite; and the children are given the opportunity to have their portrait drawn by Fiona which has proved a very popular feature of the programme. One of the hospital play specialists said of a 17-month old girl, ‘I’ve never seen her so engaged and in such good form.’

Staff in the paediatric department have particularly welcomed the project as it takes places on weekends when the school and playroom are closed. Edelle Nolan, the Arts Coordinator at Cork University Hospital, comments on the project, ‘At the weekends the children have visitors that can’t typically visit during the weekdays. So having the project at a time when siblings and relatives can participate in a fun and playful art project brings the whole family together, creating happy memories of their hospital stay and visit. Research has proven that positive memories during hospitalisation, especially for children who are in hospital frequently or for long periods, have long-ranging benefits into adulthood in terms of positive socialisation.’

The Scales & Tales project evolved from a previous collaboration between Helium’s Artist on Call programme and MusicAlive’s The Musical Playground project in late 2010. Caoimhe Conlon, director of MusicAlive, says of Scales & Tales, ‘Children are constantly creating their own songs, stories and pictures while at home and the artforms regularly overlap, so it is a natural extension to incorporate this on the ward to allow the children to continue to express themselves artistically while in hospital.’

“When we entered that room and Caoimhe started playing Over the Rainbow on the flute, immediately the atmosphere changed…”
– Storyteller Fiona Dowling

“Are you coming back?”
– Child to Fiona

Scales and Tales from Helium Childrens Arts and Health on Vimeo.

Scales & Tales is one branch of Helium’s Artist on Call programme which provides hospitals with performing arts experiences. These artists can facilitate workshops or purpose-designed, site-specific performances that travel from bed to bed. Since the Artist on Call programme began in 2009, it has visited over 400 children and 500 parents, siblings and friends in 6 hospitals. This year the Artist on Call programme is also taking place at a Dublin children’s hospital with Fiona and performer Eléonore Nicolas running monthly storytelling sessions. Scales & Tales is Helium’s second residency in Cork University Hospital, following the Puppet Portal Project in 2010, and Helium is delighted to have the hospital’s continuing support.

Scales & Tales is produced by Helium in partnership with Cork University Hospital Arts Committee and in collaboration with MusicAlive. This project was made possible through funding from the Irish Youth Foundation, Cork Arts and Health Programme (CAHP), Cork University Hospital Arts Committee and the Arts Council. Scales & Tales will run until November 2011.

“When I see her happy like this, I feel so relieved”
– Mother of a 17-month old girl

Fiona and Caoimhe gave an interview to Cliff Wedgebury at CUH FM hospital radio in the autumn where they told stories and played music … giving a lovely idea of what happened on the wards. We would like to thank Cliff, Tom and Mike at CUH FM for being so accommodating.
Scales & Tales radio interview with CUH FM hospital radio

Caoimhe Conlon is a flautist and music facilitator. She enables people of all ages to create their own music by intertwining song, music and movement. Caoimhe has performed in concert halls across Europe and the USA, and over the last number of years has worked on music projects in healthcare and community settings in Europe and Africa. She is co-founder of MusicAlive, Ireland’s specialist organization for music in healthcare and community settings. For more information on her work please visit www.musicalive.ie

French-Irish Fiona Dowling is a multidisciplinary artist working in painting, mosaics, clowning and storytelling. Her works explore themes of Love and Happiness in a warm and whimsical way. She has exhibited or performed in the Ashford Gallery, RHA,Temple Bar Galleries and Studios, Hillsboro Fine Arts, Dublin,The Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork and Droichead Art Centre, Drogheda. She was recently invited to tell stories at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris. Find out more about Fiona @ www.fionadowling.com and visit the blog of her storytelling group at http://story-o.blogspot.com/

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