Monday 8 March 2021

Orchestras in Healthcare: a new report reveals the remarkable extent of UK orchestras' commitment to working in healthcare

Music in Mind project by Manchester Camerata (Photo credit: Rachel Bywater Photography)
Manchester Camerata's Music in Mind project (Photo credit: Rachel Bywater Photography)

I suspect that many of us are aware that UK orchestras are involved in projects relating to healthcare and well-being, and many of those running the orchestras are passionate about such things. But quite how many and how much? Now Orchestras Live, as a result of a session on orchestras in healthcare at the Association of British Orchestra's 2020 conference, has published the results of a survey.

66 professional orchestras and opera companies were emailed, of which 54 (82%) responded, from all over the UK. Of those that answered, 63% are delivering work in healthcare, either in informal or formal settings, tincluding acute and chronic hospital settings, mental health, social care, community and care settings. And there is a strong appetite to develop work in this area in orchestras not yet invovled. The work is neither formally recognised nor paid for by the NHS and is work in which the orchestras heavily invest themselves.

So what exactly are orchestras doing? To sample a few of the case studies in the report:

  • The Orchestra of the Swan works with five care-homes in Stratford-upon-Avon, working with residents, staff and members of the public, including people living with dementia. [see my 2017 interview with the orchestra's founder, David Curtis]
  • The London Symphony Orchestra is involved in a project at Newham Hospital to provide music for patients over 65, many of whom have been diagnosed with dementia, with the aim of reducing stress and anxiety, and facilitating connection with and between patients. 
  • Sinfonia Viva has run quarterly creative music making sessions at hospitals for over 15 years, working in locations such as outpatients' waiting rooms, on the wards and even at bedsides.
  • The Ulster Orchestra's Mendelssohn Octet performs in locations such as the Marie Curie Cancer Care Hospice and the Northern Ireland Hospice in Belfast.

Orchestras who engage in health and wellbeing activities raise 93% of the money themselves,  and are not solely motivated by public funding requirements. Health and wellbeing work is identified as being as central to the orchestras' business model and all but one are ensuring quality of delivery by either training musicians themselves, or hiring specifically trained musicians, to deliver the work in healthcare settings.

The extent of this work is not formally recognised by the healthcare sector, and it is telling that payment from healthcare settings for services provided is minimal – only 7% of the total cost of £1.6million.

Further information, and the complete report for download, from the Orchestras Live website.

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