Musicians such as Phoebe Gorry are bringing comfort to vulnerable adults right across the country. Masonic funding will allow Music in Hospitals to find an even bigger audience, as Matt Timms finds out
Singer Phoebe Gorry shoots a glance at her guitarist before turning to the audience: ‘This one’s my favourite. It’s called Tea for Two.’ Popularised by Doris Day in the 1950 film of the same name, it’s an unusual favourite for a 28-year-old jazz musician to have. Then again, this isn’t your usual performance. In a quiet corner of Surrey, Gorry is reeling off classics for elderly residents at the Royal Cambridge Home.
The concert is one of many that are taking place in care homes (including RMBI homes), hospitals and hospices across the country. They’re the work of Music in Hospitals, a charity that has brought live music to vulnerable adults and children for more than half a century. With the help of a £60,048 grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation – the latest in a line of donations from the masonic charities over the years – there is now funding for another 216 concerts over a three-year period.
‘Research has shown that live music can help to reduce levels of pain, stress and anxiety, as well as provide moments of joy for those who have lost their independence or feel isolated,’ says Emily Winchester, senior fundraising officer at Music in Hospitals, adding that music has an inherent ability to generate an emotional response in the listener. ‘Musicians like Phoebe provide stimulating and therapeutic enjoyment for hundreds of elderly people in care homes across the country.’
Judging by today’s performance, Gorry is a welcome addition to the home. There are singalongs and plenty of requests – particularly from a cheeky couple in the corner. There is also dancing between staff and residents, and an opportunity to revisit treasured memories while making new ones too.
‘The residents love it,’ says Gaye Wyeth, who is the housekeeper and activities manager at the home. ‘I’ve been here for 26 years and remember a time when there were hardly any activities at all – never mind this.’
Now there’s flower arranging, birthday teas and even a version of the Olympics – with straws and paper plates instead of a javelin and discus. Yet the Music in Hospitals concerts, according to Wyeth, are a house favourite because they’re so varied.
‘Live music can help to reduce levels of pain, stress and anxiety, as well as provide moments of joy’ Emily Winchester
‘We have some artistic residents here who have always appreciated music,’ says the home’s manager, Rory Belfield. ‘One of our residents, Joyce, loves today’s music, but we have plenty of diverse tastes. Some like jazz, some folk, others opera – the whole range.’
The music is enjoyable but it’s also therapeutic. Active participation serves as a form of physiotherapy, through clapping, tapping and moving in time to the music. Positive changes to patients’ mood and self-esteem can also make a real difference to their well-being. In addition, and most noticeably at this home, music sparks memories and emotions, meaning staff can understand more about an individual.
Gorry has been a professional singer for 10 years, since graduating from the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and was introduced to Music in Hospitals through a friend.
Music in Hospitals’ chief executive Steve Rowland-Jones says that potential musicians are assessed against their musicianship, breadth of repertoire and communication skills. Since 2013, auditions have been conducted within healthcare environments to gauge how musicians engage with audiences and deal with the vagaries of such settings.
Often, musicians will take on the role of friend or listener as they chat to patients about the memories the music may have sparked. It’s an important part of the experience, and one that is welcomed by patients.
‘It’s intimate,’ says Gorry. ‘I can engage with an audience in a way I can’t do at, say, a wedding when everybody’s a bit drunk and I’m in the background. Over the past year, I’ve become a much better performer. It has changed the way I sing. Now I think about how to communicate a song simply, without overcomplicating it.’
As well as in care homes, Gorry has performed in hospitals and special-needs schools. She says her experience with the charity has given her memories that will last a lifetime. One of the most moving was when a nurse in a children’s ward asked her to sing for an eight-year-old girl.
‘She hadn’t been responsive for a long time and, with her mum and sister by her side, my guitarist and I were able to wake her up and help make eye contact. At that point, her mum started crying. She said it was the most stimulated she’d seen her for a really long time. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.’
With the help of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), Music in Hospitals aims to reach 5,400 elderly people. David Innes, CEO of the MCF, says that the benefits of the service are clear to see and the work itself is closely aligned with the masonic ethos:
‘At the heart of everything we do lies one of the basic principles by which all Freemasons conduct their lives – an ingrained duty to care for those who are less fortunate. From its earliest days in the 1700s, Freemasonry in England and Wales has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged, and this grant is a continuation of that principle into the modern day.’