Irish Times article

Pictured at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin was cellist Grainne Hope, Jonathan Wilson as Tchaikovsky, Amy Jordan and flautist Julie Maisel. Photographs: Jason Clarke Photography

In tune with children’s spirits

Sylvia Thompson

DAVID NOONAN (15) happily plays the chime bars alongside children of all ages who sing and tap their bells to Christmas songs. The teenager in Transition Year in Ard Scoil La Salle in Raheny, Dublin came down from his ward in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin a little annoyed but it didn’t take long for him to cheer up. “Music is always a distraction for me. The workshop calmed me down. It was very enjoyable,” says Noonan, who plays the guitar, drums and piano when he’s at home. Amy Ferguson’s mother, Veronica, also enjoyed the music workshop led by cellist Grainne Hope and flautist Julie Maisel. Amy, who turns five this week, had a heart transplant two years ago. “We’re just happy that she’s here. We nearly lost her,” says her mother. “She loves singing and dancing and I love music myself.”

One of the striking aspects of this new series of music workshops in children’s hospitals is how the children of different ages are relaxed by the encounter with real classical musical instruments and the musicians. “You never know who will come so it’s important that we reach all children through the stories, the music we play and the songs we sing together,” says Grainne Hope.

Our Lady’s Hospital is one of three Dublin hospitals – the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght and the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street are the others – that will host Kids Classics music workshops over the next year.”Seventy per cent of the children who come into hospital have long-term illnesses such as genetic disorders, heart conditions or cancer which require ongoing care,” says Geraldine Regan, director of nursing at Our Lady’s Hospital.

“Because they will spend a significant proportion of their lives in hospital, we have to embrace a holistic approach to the child and look after their personal, social and even spiritual development as well as their physical and medical needs.”Children learn how to interact with the world through play and music is a large element of that,” she adds. “It lifts their spirits at a time when they are faced with many daunting situations such as operations, tests, X-rays and other procedures.”

The Kids Classics series of workshops will be held once a month in each hospital from now until December 2009.

Each workshop will explore a different composer. The workshop The Irish Times witnessed was called Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Party and during it Tchaikovsky (Jonathan Wilson) read the story of the Nutcracker while Maisel and Hope performed excerpts from it. “Later, we will have Beethoven’s Bad Hair Day and a day in the life of Mozart,” explains Hope. The series is funded by the Learn and Explore Department at the National Concert Hall (NCH). “Our aim is to bring music to every corner of Ireland so we would like to develop this programme further,” explains Katie Wink, the Learn and Explore manager at the NCH.Other outreach programmes run by the NCH include Up the Tempo in which musicians run composition workshops in schools. The National Chamber Choir also recently held music and singing workshops in nursing homes and the Coolmine Therapeutic Community.

The musicians themselves also enjoy the contact with people outside of traditional performance venues. “Playing music is such a human interaction and something very special happens in places like this,” says Jonathan Wilson who played guitar and doubled as Tchaikovsky for the workshop. “I was particularly struck by one girl in the group who was blind and yet had the best rhythm of all the children when we played and sang together,” he adds. According to Maisel, “There are plenty of studies that emphasise the benefit of music and then, we never know what impact the workshops might have. Some of the children might be encouraged to learn to play a musical instrument after participating.”

One recent study struck a chord for Regan. “Dr Dan Penny from the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital spoke at our foundation day last month,” she explains. “And, he quoted a study of children with cardiac conditions whose social development was delayed due to the lack of play in their lives.” She continues, “Children in hospitals see the grim side of life. They are very good at coping in difficult situations but it is studies like this one that emphasise how important it is for us to give them access to opportunities to play and learn,” she says.

“In this environment of containing costs, you have to look at new ways of doing things and this partnership with the National Concert Hall allows us to look at the social development of children in a cost-effective way,” she adds.

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