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Stories and Music for Children in Hospital talk & workshop: documentation from the day

In March, Helium, in partnership with Waterford Healing Arts Trust, organised a talk and workshop with artists Caoimhe Conlon (Musician) of MusicAlive and Fiona Dowling (Storyteller) at the WHAT Centre for Arts & Health, Waterford Regional Hospital. Caoimhe and Fiona talked about their recent collaboration together on Scales & Tales – a storytelling and music residency for children at Cork University Hospital – and reflected on their learnings and methods. They then facilitated a workshop based on their devised approach.

View Reference booklet for Music and Stories for Children in Hospital CPD

Combining Storytelling and Music in a healthcare setting

Caoimhe and Fiona started with a discussion on their experience of bringing Scales & Tales to children and their families at Cork University Hospital. The philosophy behind the cross-artform partnership was inspired by children themselves. Children love storytelling, dance, music, song; they do these things all the time, without ever differentiating between them. These creative outlets, which are part of a child’s everyday existence, should also form part of their hospital stay. Caoimhe gives an example of a little girl who was very upset when they met her in the hospital but who calmed down when she heard the music playing. For Caoimhe, the emotional (the children’s enjoyment) and the social (the sense of community created) are the most important elements. Fiona gives examples of how their collaborative approach worked in practice on the children’s ward and how they continually learned from each other. The ability to adapt to the changing conditions of the hospital environment is a necessity in a project like this. The fact that children and their parents could choose if they wanted to take part was important as so many elements of the hospital setting are beyond the control of the patient. Parents were always invited to pick up an instrument and join in and participation was extended to healthcare staff. Fiona emphasised the need to adapt to different age groups, to find stories that were universal in nature and could be appreciated by older children, and stories especially for the younger ones. The same approach was taken with the music, with Caoimhe playing Lady Gaga and Rihanna tunes for teenagers on the flute.

View slideshow presentation

Fiona Dowling writes about the workshop she and Caoimhe gave on the day:

“We introduced everyone with a musical name game, after which we offered warm-up activities to get the story and music-making muscles ready. The workshop culminated in us teaming up musicians and storytellers and setting them two tasks to get them working together (the first: to work out a musical accompaniment to one of the storyteller’s tales, the second: to find ways of building audience participation into their musical story). Then each team performed for the rest of the group. By the end of the workshop, because of all the discoveries people had made, and all the moments of beauty we had witnessed, everyone was on a high! Trumpet, clarinet, violin and percussions brought humour, depth and poignancy to the stories in ways I never imagined. Stories in turn made us more aware of the personality, quirks, and characters of the different instruments. In one exercise, everybody closed their eyes as instruments were played one at a time, -‘What could this sound be if it was in a story?’ -‘… A secret!’.”

Photographs from the workshop. Photographer Eleonore Nicolas.

Feedback from storytellers & musicians who attended:

“Really enjoyed the workshop. Great insight to what you do and are about. Great to meet people with interests in similar work.Would have liked more time to develop stories more and maybe some constructive criticism even though I know in these circumstances everything is right and welcome. :)”

“Really enjoyed the workshop, particularly the storytelling aspect (which I have no experience of as a musician).”

“Lovely facilitators. Did a lot in 3 hours! Very creative.”

“I have really enjoyed today’s workshop. It’s always great to meet new musicians and other artists. I will definitely use some of the exercises in my own work and I have already got ideas about incorporating stories into music in my work. It was so interesting to work with artists who work with another art-form, this is something I’ve never done before so I really learned alot!”

“Very interesting how both art forms can merge together in such a complimentary manner! The stories were fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the day. 🙂 Thanks!”

“More please! 🙂 Great work! Very inspiring! Like improvise”

“I enjoyed very much to involve storytelling with music together. I can see how they can work well together. Each one helps to bring living emotions and images.”

Learn more about Scales & Tales at Cork University Hospital here

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