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Music that heals – A photo essay into the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital

27th April 2018

Rhythmix created the “Wishing Well” Music in Healthcare programme in 2013 to bring live music-making activities right to the bedsides of children and young people in hospital. Currently funded by BBC Children in Need and The National Foundation for Youth Music, the Wishing Well, “Musicians in Healthcare” are trained specifically to work in acute hospital settings as part of the team on the ward, taking music making beyond “entertainment” to create interactions that support the wellbeing of children and families.  Through family-led, creative, participatory experiences they help reduce some of the anxiety, frustration and isolation that can often be experienced, particularly by those spending long periods of time in hospital.

In this photo essay Jo White, Programme Director for Wishing Well Music in Healthcare, shares with Music Mark her experience and insights into the work being carried out in Brighton’s Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. Photographs by Gani Naylor and Sarah West.


A rich sensory experience for children with less hearing; they can feel the vibration of the cello through their hands and feet.

“We gently play music by the door to a little boy’s room. “He cries every time one of us goes near him” says a passing doctor but Mum waves us in. We crouch down near him,  singing songs that we hope are familiar, and pull brightly coloured instruments from our bag. It’s too much to resist – his fear turns to curiosity and soon he is exploring our sound-world. Mum suggests his favourite lullaby and for a while, we all sit, singing and playing together, all worries forgotten and the rest of the hospital, a million miles away.

A normal scene in many ways but in the context of a critical care ward in an acute hospital for children, these “ordinary” moments have a deep meaning. What we are doing with our music making is creating relationships. We begin the relationship by gently  “offering” our music to a patient from their doorway, looking for a response to let us know that our offer is accepted before we move closer.

We develop the relationship by giving the child and their family what they need in that moment. They may want to “receive” music with nothing at all asked of them but more commonly, there is participation. Music shines a light on what children in hospital can do. We are not trying to fix what is wrong with them, but nurture what is right; their innate musicality, creativity and curiosity. In this little boy’s case, we were also reminding him that not all interactions with adults involve a blood test. By putting instruments into their hands and following their lead we give children a sense of choice and control. In the hospital environment where everything is happens “to” you, the value of agency can’t be underestimated.

And finally we “end” our relationship , at least for that visit,  and leave behind an echo that reminds children and families of the world outside that for a moment, came right to their bedside.”

Jo White, Programme Director for Wishing Well Music in Healthcare


Giving choice and voice to give young people a sense of agency and self expression.



iPad technology is a crucial part of making sure everyone can express themselves.



“Music brings something that we just cannot access through medicine.” Dr Kamal Patel



Music holds a space for mum and baby to just be together.



Music provides a release for everyone on the ward!



Natural sounds to enrich the hospital soundscape.



Working as part of the multi disciplinary team on the ward means we include everyone on the ward in our music making.



Being regular visitors to the children’s hospital over a sustained period of time has enabled us to become part of the fabric of the hospital.


Zoe wth Kendal


Many thanks to Joe and her team for sharing this work with us.