14th April 2022 Dr Sophie Lee, Musician in Residence TUH
Connecting with patients and helping to improve their wellbeing are among the benefits of Soothing Sounds, a live music programme for patients, staff and visitors at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH). Developed by the TUH Arts & Health Programme in 2017, it is delivered by musician in residence, Dr Sophie Lee. Aiming to improve mood and reduce stress, the programme was originally facilitated in paediatrics from 2017 to 2020, and was subsequently adapted for adult services in 2021 following an evaluation. Feedback for patients and staff has been positive with one patient commenting that the programme “made chemo a pleasant experience” and a Clinical Nurse Manager describing how it “relaxes patients, is not too intrusive, is enjoyable and makes the setting less clinical.”
Currently delivered in the Amber Oncology Ward, Vartry Renal Unit and William Stokes Unit (Age Related), the programme enables patients to experience a blend of individual or group music sessions at their bedsides on Friday mornings. Co funded by the HSE (under the Health Promotion Grant Aid Agreement) and the Meath Foundation, Soothing Sounds has now returned after a COVID-19 hiatus and has been welcomed by patients and staff.
For Dr Sophie Lee, a pianist who began in TUH as a volunteer musician in 2015 and became musician in residence in 2018, the programme has been transformative. Sophie recently completed her PhD at the University of Limerick, supported by the Irish Research Council. Her research investigated the effects of music interventions on the well-being of people living with early-stage dementia and their family carers.
Reflecting on the TUH programme, Sophie noted: ‘During each Soothing Sounds session I play music that aims to connect with patients and draw them out of themselves. The selected repertoire fits the remit of ‘soothing’ within the wards I’m playing in and is a varied blend of genres such as classical, pop, folk and Irish traditional. The music played primarily aims to reduce stress in the environment. When a patient requests a piece, I take the entire ward environment into account, including the needs of other patients, and if appropriate, I will play it. I also have a ‘request book’ where I write down music to learn for patients if I don’t know it. It is important to me that each patient can engage with Soothing Sounds in their own way. While I encourage interaction and participation by singing along with the music and discussing it, I also facilitate the space for patients to sing along gently or simply relax and listen to the music. Spontaneous musical interaction is an important part of the programme, and, while I have a bank of repertoire, the music I play in each session is based on what patients need and what feels appropriate in that moment. This flexible, adaptable, patient-centred approach can only be achieved through a live music session delivered by a trained musician in healthcare. Feedback received from patients and staff on their experiences of the programme appear to support existing research of the benefits that live music can have in hospital environments.
Outlining how she finds the work hugely rewarding, Sophie adds:
‘It supports my interest and belief in the benefits that music can have for everyone’s health and wellbeing. It is a real privilege to see some of those benefits first hand and it gives me the opportunity to share something I really love by playing music for and with people. While playing on a hospital ward it is great to see the patients smile and see the happy faces of staff who pop their heads around the door of the ward when they hear live music. Music doesn’t just stay in the room but travels down the corridors of the hospital and brings something unexpected and unusual to the day. As experienced here and in other healthcare settings who have similar programmes, there are many amazing moments of human connection to be seen through having a live music programme. It is the highlight of my week to play music and be with the patients while delivering the Soothing Sounds Programme in TUH.’
Recalling particular moments Sophie continued:
“At Christmas I was playing piano on a ward and a patient who was a pianist came up to me and asked could he play piano for the patients and staff. A nurse came over, sanitised the piano and got him set up to play. He performed works by Chopin, Beethoven and Gershwin for everyone on the ward! In this moment, staff saw this patient in a whole new light and he got to feel a bit more like himself. If Soothing Sounds didn’t exist he may never have had the chance to play piano while he was in hospital. On reflection, I was struck by the spontaneity, connection and joy that a live music programme can bring to a hospital ward.”
Another day while playing on the oncology ward, Sophie outlined how “a lady arrived for her first chemotherapy treatment. As it happened, her bed was right beside the piano, which she was delighted about as she was a singer. Very excited about having music in the clinical environment, she prepared herself and began to sing as I accompanied her! This completely lifted her mood and the mood of the room. When she sang, ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles, two other patients joined in and a sing-song ensued on the oncology ward. What had been a silent, individualised, medical setting had now transformed into a friendly, social, musical space. The patient commented afterwards on how it was amazing how music changed the atmosphere and how it had affected each person on the ward.”
Arts Officer at TUH, Ali Baker Kerrigan, explains that Soothing Sounds has been a “successful live music programme in TUH since 2017. The programme is enjoyed by patients and staff alike, all of whom have noted the positive impacts it has on their wellbeing. This would not be possible without the funding support of the HSE and The Meath Foundation. Our hope for the future is to further expand the programme to other hospital departments so that live music is offered to an increased number of our patients and staff, in addition to our already vibrant arts and health programme in TUH.”