Playing Music in a Children’s Hospice

Things are changing. This summer, after 11 years in Guildford, I decided to move to a new city. Embarking upon a new journey towards destination unknown. As I begin to find my way in Bristol, I have been reflecting on the many experiences that have shaped me and lead me on to this path I now find myself upon. For this post, I would like to share with you some stories from the time I spent volunteering at the Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice.

The four years I spent at Shooting Star Chase have been incredibly rewarding and at times challenging. There have obviously been some heart breaking moments, but so many beautiful moments too. Plus I never expected to meet both Peter Andre and Michael Ball in the same year!

I remember my first session. I was very nervous. Frightened even. Hospitals and anything to do with the health care system always made me feel uneasy, but I was determined. I wanted to help people with the skills I have in some small way. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in the long run this would also help me. Help me to confront things from my own childhood.

I wandered in and met the lovely music therapist. She lead me down to the soft play room where I would set up all my things for the session. Whilst I was carefully arranging my instruments, a child was hoisted out of his wheelchair and laid down carefully on the mats. He was very restless. I began playing the Hang. I was trying to play to his movements. Creating a sound track to the drama the boy was acting out. He played the part perfectly. As he kicked his legs out the music would become more aggressive. As he rolled over the music would change with him. Over about half an hour, the boy began to relax as the music gradually became calmer and softer. By the end of the session I was playing very delicately and the boy was at rest, but alert and listening intently.

Several weeks later, I got the call that Peter Andre was coming to town! The excitement was palpable. Mothers and children alike where waiting expectantly in the garden room, waiting for the arrival of a thoroughly well chiselled individual. Of course, Peter was running late. I was playing my various instruments, trying my best to keep everyone entertained. After a while, this sweet little girl approached and interrupted the music. “Excuse me, are you nearly finished?” She asked. I honestly didn’t know. Come on Peter, hurry! Suddenly there was a burst of activity by the door, a rustling of photographers, excitement starting to peak. Then, like a cardboard cutout only moving and talking, he arrived. Mothers were swooning left right and centre. Photos were taken, smiling was had. Peter worked his way around the room taking the time to speak to everyone. I must say he is a genuinely lovely bloke full of compassion and kindness.

Some months later, it was Michael Ball’s turn. He was rather more punctual than Mr Andre. He had recently held a concert to raise money for a minibus which he kindly donated to the hospice. One of the nurses in a hushed tone told me that she had unofficially named it ‘The Balls Bus’ but I was not to tell anyone! Later, there was a wonderful scene outside in the carpark. Many of the parents and children had come in wearing dressing gowns. There was a very good reason for this, but I can’t remember why. One of the children was having a photo in front of the bus, flanked by her father and Michael. I was stood next to the child’s mother who asked me whether Michael had signed her husbands ‘special glove’ yet? I replied that no gloves, special or otherwise had been signed. Then, right on cue, a pure white glove was revealed from the pocket of an old brown dressing gown. The girls father nervously offered it to Michael for his autograph. Being outside there was no surface to lean on, not a table in sight, but fear not there was a rather elegant solution! The child’s father lifted his knee, tired dressing gown flapping in the wind, socks and sandals, a glorious tableaux. He placed the glove on his protruding leg. A rather uncomfortable and sheepish looking Michael Ball dutifully signed his name upon the exquisite white glove. Marvellous.

There is a final story I would like to share with you if I may. Although this one is a little more heavy going. On arrival I was informed that there were two children staying at the hospice who were under ‘end of life’ care. I was to go and play music to both families. I carried my things to the first private room and entered slowly. I can’t really describe the atmosphere. I don’t think I could chose a word that would fully capture the gravity of how the room felt. A small child was lying in the arms of their grandmother. A brother, a mother, a father, and a grandfather sat in various places around the room. It was quiet. I felt like I was intruding. I smiled softly and sat down on the floor by the end of the bed. I began to play. While I was playing the Native American flute, I allowed my eyes to glance around the room. I remember clearly, the child’s grandfather sat perfectly upright in a chair, with his eyes closed, listening. I carried on playing. Later as I was getting ready to leave, the grandfather spoke to me. He bowed his head in thanks and shared with me fond memories of how he used to play the flute as a young boy. After exchanging a few words with the family, I left and went on to the next room. Inside, a mother lay next to her child. I played quietly in the corner for a short time and then sensed I should leave them in peace. I walked back to my car, heart breaking and my mind elsewhere. As I pulled out of the carpark, my mind was jarred back abbruptly as I very nearly crashed into an oncoming vehicle.

There are many more stories I could share with you that make me smile when I think back to my time spent at the hospice. There was the child really keen to join in with the music who found the most obnoxiously loud tambourine to play! Another who would joyfully chirp “Again” when I would pause for breath playing the flute. And the occasional moments where the mood of the room would completely change in an instant with the first strike of the Hang. The power of music is truly beautiful to witness.

I am in awe of all the work that they do at Shooting Star Chase. The nurses who work tirelessly and all of the volunteers. I invite you to please donate if you can, so that they can continue to offer their amazing service.

Written by Andrew Ford 20/09/2017

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