The musicians who bring fun and relief to Great Ormond Street Hospital

The GO Create! programme aims to engage children through musical performances, visual art, poetry and dance

Jamie Merrill,Jenny Marc
Saturday 23 January 2016 21:06
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Music therapist GOSH

Wheeling a box of instruments with guitars slung over their shoulders, David McKenny and Joe Danks admit they look like “a band of wandering minstrels” as they enter Eagle Ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The two young musicians are from the hospital’s GO Create! team, and as they weave around parked buggies and medical equipment they start to softly play their guitars.

They sing in hushed, soft tones, looking around carefully for young patients in need of musical therapy. “We start slowly,” said Joe, 20. “We have to build trust with the patients. We can’t have musical egos here; we are here to be responsive to their needs.”

Sometimes that might mean backing away from a patient in pain, but equally it can end in a sing-along with patients, parents, doctors and nurses.

One of the patients they spot is one-year old Taheem Ntambi, who is undergoing peritoneal dialysis. Within minutes he’s up on his bed, shaking a maraca as his mother Aida laughs. Behind her is the sofa she sleeps on at night while keeping a vigil at his side.

This is clearly a well-needed moment of relief, for Aida and the staff on the ward, and soon enough Taheem has got off the bed and is dashing down the halls as David and Joe switch seamlessly from a wafting nursery rhyme to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, a fitting Formula One tribute as Taheem races off down the corridor.

The two musicians, who visit the hospital every Wednesday, are part of the GO Create! programme, which aims to engage children through musical performances on wards, visual art, poetry, dance and commissioned artworks around the hospital. “Playing here is incredibly rewarding. It’s all the best bits of music, of performing and putting on a show without any of the egos or hassle that comes with touring. For us, it’s purely about the joy of playing,” said David, 32.

Performing on the wards does come with challenges though, and the two have to think carefully about how they approach sick patients, and what instruments they can bring in to the wards without disturbing other patients.

Alongside their percussion instruments is an industrial-size pack of disinfectant wipes. “Playing the guitar with surgical gloves on is a skill we are still developing. You don’t see Bruce Springsteen doing this,” said David.

Joe has a background in folk music while David is interested in Indonesian music, but both come together to perform “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the theme-tune from The Lion King.

The work of GO Create!, which is part of the patient and family support programme helped by The Independent on Sunday’s Give to GOSH appeal, goes far beyond music sessions though.

Taheem Ntambi is at GOSH undergoing peritoneal dialysis

It’s inspired by the idea of providing “care for the whole child” by helping to reduce anxiety, allowing children to express themselves, and using participatory art to reduce stress. “There is an increasing body of research that suggests that art in hospitals, ranging from magic shows to visual art, has a real impact in patient outcomes,” said Susie Hall, head of GO Create!.

The other side of GO Create!, she adds, is bringing professional artists into the hospital and getting them to work with children. One such work is the large “Fish Mural” that welcomes patients at the hospital’s main entrance. More than 100 children and young people from across GOSH’s wards took part in creating the artwork, with the fish representing the diversity of patients.

Back on Eagle Ward, the musical duo are finishing their rounds. “It’s an honour to perform here,” said David. “We’ve performed with Elliott on Bear Ward for his whole stay. He’s been here nearly a year and his mum, Candace, asked us for a song list. In a way he’s grown up with our music. It was his first experience of live music.”

Watching the two finish their routine is play specialist Lynsey Steele, who supports patients while they are on the ward.

For her, the biggest benefit of GO Create! is the “positive knock-on” it has when its teams aren’t actually on the ward.

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