BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Those who have spent time in hospital settings may be familiar with feelings of stress, vulnerability, and isolation. And in Tasmania, healthcare workers must also navigate a system in crisis as they provide care. That’s why one charity is sending musicians into rooms of the Royal Hobart Hospital, gifting a moment of peace to those who need it most.
Inscape works with instrumentalists who play gentle melodies at patients’ bedsides, and give pop-up concerts to busy healthcare workers. While music therapy is commonly used in hospital environments, this charity welcomes patients to take part in the program in a more intimate way, requesting the type of music that would bring them comfort through one-on-one sessions — from classical to jazz and plenty in between.
Crystal Livermore is one performer who happens to have experience in all of the above. The University of Tasmania music graduate plays guitar and sings for those she visits through her Inscape performances. Crystal tells CutCommon what it’s like to make a difference through the power of music.
Crystal, why did you want to get involved in Inscape Tasmania?
I have always been interested in music as a way to connect with people in a non-performance environment, or simply as an experience that uplifts. I have also had some experience playing for sing-alongs in nursing homes and with older people in general. As a musician and lover of music myself, I know how it has helped me get through difficult times too. So I was intrigued when I saw an ad on Facebook for Inscape looking for musicians for pop-up concerts around the hospital.
So what happens in a typical Inscape session?
The session starts with a meeting with our program manager — getting briefed about which patients have been referred for a music visit. We will go over details about their musical tastes and any health issues that will influence the visit. We spend a lot of time on the acute older persons unit, but also visit people of all ages on other wards. We tailor each visit to the patient’s needs and prepare beforehand, but also you stay flexible enough to respond to circumstances as they change.
We are visiting patients to facilitate a musical experience rather than give a performance. It is a patient-led experience; we are not music therapists, but musicians offering an interaction with music. We are trained to approach each patient in a very sensitive manner to connect with them on a personal level first, and then to offer them some music if they would like. If they would like a visit, then we can do all sorts things from playing some quiet background music to singing a song they love. They might join in some singing, listen to a recording of a piece of music, or simply have a chat about music in general.
This is a deeply stressful time for any patient who need to access health services. What role do you feel music plays in helping patients to find a moment of calm?
It is a very difficult time for the Tasmanian health system. And with construction work ongoing at the Royal Hobart Hospital, it can be disruptive for patients. That being said, it is always a deeply stressful time for anyone who is in hospital regardless of external events, so our role as musicians and artists — to offer patients an experience that may give respite and comfort from their illness — is still the same as always.
We hope that the music we share with patients helps them to connect with something within themselves that gives them some relief from whatever may be troubling them. Whether we play calming music or sing together and have a laugh, we always strive to provide them with something that will uplift in some way.
We often think of music as therapy for patients. How have you found music can also bring relief to health care staff who are under an enormous amount of pressure?
Yes, this is also part of what we try to achieve through playing music in the hospital environment. Inscape runs pop-up performances in various locations around the hospital where music can flow through corridors and to places where staff are working. It can help to lighten the atmosphere, and we get a lot of positive feedback from staff that it does filter through to spaces where people are working.
You’re a music graduate of the University of Tasmania, and you perform across so many different styles — from classical to jazz and folk. That’s not to mention your range of instruments: guitar, bass, and voice! How do you use this broad skillset to offer patients and staff an experience they can connect to?
It has helped me immensely to have a broad experience in music. The patients we visit have diverse musical tastes that range from classical to pop and everything in between. Whether a patient is a listener to or a player of music, we can connect by listening to a piece they love, or even talking about pieces they have learnt.
I sometimes play a classical guitar piece, or even sing a snippet from an aria they might like…Having studied some classical guitar and classical voice has helped me to be able to talk to people about a composer or concerto or opera that is special to them. It also helps me to locate a piece of music that they might not be sure of the name.
I have a fond memory of listening to some 1940s jazz with a patient, and doing some colouring in. It helped to create a feeling of being in a more domestic environment — more like being around the kitchen table at home rather than in hospital.
On the flip side, I may also play a Rolling Stones song to the next patient, or have a conversation about George Michael! A lot of patients will request particular pieces of music that give them comfort or have a special memory attached.
One piece that has come up a few times is Au fond du temple saint from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles. It is such a beautiful piece of music that means a lot to many people. We have had patients that have been professional jazz musicians as well, and being able to play a jazz standard for someone, and help them to reconnect in some small way with a core part of themselves that may be obscured by illness, is very useful too.
Having a broad knowledge of styles of music definitely helps me to do my best to provide a meaningful musical experience for patients.
What has been your most fulfilling experience with Inscape so far?
Connecting with people every time I work with Inscape is a very fulfilling experience. People smiling as they walk past when you are playing a song they like, or when a patient says you have made their day, is a wonderful thing.
One particular experience early in my time with Inscape happened at a pop-up concert I did with one of my colleagues. We had a group of patients listening and singing along, and afterwards a nurse came up to us and said one of the patients that was singing hadn’t been speaking for the last couple of weeks. That was a really big lesson in the power of music to cut through.
How do you feel Inscape fits in with your broader life and career as a musician, and what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt about the power of music?
Working with Inscape fits in very well with the other work I do as a musician [as] I teach and perform around Hobart. I love that it is a different mode of sharing music, where you aren’t really having the usual dynamic of performer and listener but a collaborative experience.
Working with Inscape has really deepened my appreciation for how music can comfort, soothe, and uplift in hard times. As well as its power to transport you from the reality you are in and help you to transcend, if only for a little while, it is a very special thing.
What would you say to other musicians who are considering entering the health system to share the extraordinary benefits of music with staff and patients?
I would highly recommend it, but remember that it isn’t a performer-listener situation. You need to be prepared to disappear very quickly if something else around you happens, such as doctors or nurses coming in. We work around everything else going on in the hospital.
At a fundamental level, it is about allowing the patient to lead what happens. You are a conduit for them to connect to the music in whatever way they feel will be beneficial to them.
To support or learn more about Inscape’s creative programs, visit the website.
Images supplied. Some images were taken prior to mask mandates.