Patients conduct the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (and shake their maracas)

Patients at Oxford Health’s Fulbrook Centre and Oxford University Hospitals Churchill Hospital’s Dialysis Unit enjoyed a visit by a quartet from Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra recently and not only enjoyed some high-quality music but got to join in playing various instruments.

Patients conduct the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (and shake their maracas)

Patients in Oxford’s hospitals have enjoyed the opportunity of live orchestral music and having a go at conducting the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) recently. These interactive sessions were funded through the OPO’s education programme and formed part of a month-long concert series.

The musicians – a violinist, violist, cellist and flautist visited Oxford Health’s Fulbrook Centre, a community hospital providing rehabilitation and palliative care and Oxford University Hospitals Churchill Hospital’s Dialysis Unit for a weekly participatory session bringing high-quality music to the people who would not normally have access to it.

The musicians encouraged patients to unleash their inner musicality by getting them to join in – playing maracas, shaky eggs and unusual percussion instruments such as the tongue drum.

They also handed over the baton and let patients conduct them as they played music to suit a wide range of tastes – from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to the theme tune to The Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The concerts have been facilitated by the hospitals’ arts programmes – Oxford Health Arts Partnership (OHAP) supported by Oxford Health Charity, and Artlink, funded by Oxford Hospitals Charity.

Being engaged with creative activities can increase mood by 48%, findings from Oxford Health Arts Partnership (OHAP) have revealed. It can also help patients to recover more quickly, reduce the need for painkillers and offer a distraction from the clinical setting.

Feedback from patients and staff echoes this positive impact, explains Angela Conlan, Project Lead, Oxford Health Arts Partnership: “The opportunity to conduct has proved to be a great hit. One patient who was invited to lead the orchestra used to be a music teacher so he had prior knowledge and made the musicians go really fast. That brought much amusement on the ward but others directed a more gentle sound. There was also an opportunity for people to shake their maracas and jiggle their shaky eggs, offering stroke and arthritis sufferers an opportunity to join in.”

Will Emery, Education Officer from the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra said: “We make sure our interactive sessions are inclusive and create a personalised experience for patients, while maintaining a group dynamic.

“It has been a joy to watch patients’ confidence grow over the course of the sessions. Two patients, who had previously been shy, bravely volunteered on our final day to conduct and play the tongue drum, performing wholeheartedly and committedly.

“Staff members even teared up as they had not seen those patients so confident and animated since arriving on the ward. Aiding and witnessing this positive impact has been a privilege for us at the OPO.”

Ruth Charity, who is the Arts Coordinator at Oxford Hospitals Charity, which supports Oxford University Hospitals added: “It’s not often that patients get the chance to engage so directly with professional musicians but this is just part of the wonderful work of the OPO who bring high quality music to those who wouldn’t normally have access to it.

“Music has such a positive impact on staff and patients. For patients on dialysis the concerts have done so much to relive boredom and lift mood. It is incredibly moving to watch.

“The interactive elements of the sessions have been particularly popular, promoting conversation, smiles and laughter. The response of staff too has been a pleasure to see – with staff joining in and playing instruments too. The whole mood of the unit lifts when the musicians come in.”

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Published: 8 March 2023