Dimensions of Music Care Part 3: Community Music

by Sarah Pearson

In this, our third instalment of this blog series on the ten dimensions of music care, we are focusing on Community Music. There is exciting academic research being done in the field of Community Music, and that largely refers to the broader sense of how a) music can create and change community, and b) how music can become more accessible in communities outside of traditional Western parameters. In the Music Care framework, we use it specifically to describe access between institutions or facilities such as hospitals, LTC homes, or prisons, and music that takes place in the community such as symphonies, touring shows, or community musical theatre.

One of big markers of culture change in health care is the focus on de-institutionalization. As care culture slowly transitions from the medical model to relational and person-centered models of care, more services are offered in the community, and more emphasis is put on keeping people out of institutions.

But institutions remain, out of necessity. There are still hospitals and nursing homes, hospices and psychiatric residences. Making these facilities connected to the wider community, rather than segregated from it, is part of how institutions respond to a changing culture of care. For example, open-concept building design for new or pre-fab facilities reflects a message that these institutions are connected to the community, and are stigma-free. Similarly, access to community-based music is a beautiful way of creating a more open facility, and also creating instant opportunities for relationship-based care.

One of my favourite programs at the hospital where I work is the relationship we have developed with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.

The KWS runs an outreach program where, through generous sponsorships, they are able to send small groups of musicians into various health care facilities to play concerts. For the past year and a half, the KWS has made afternoon musical visits to our hospital. On these days, two string players play short programs – 20-30 minutes, in various parts of the hospital. They play in the main entrance and in small communal spaces on the hospital wards. Patients, families, and staff gather to listen and chat with the musicians between pieces.

Thanks to both the music therapy program at the hospital, and the work of a few wonderful volunteers, live music is already a regular occurrence in the hospital. However, there’s a special, unique feel to these KWS visits.

Having professional-level performances in the clinical space adds a layer of beauty and experience that is unusual and unlikely for a hospital. This can make the music all the more impactful to the listeners. The musicians themselves have always expressed how rewarding it is to play in the hospital – they get to interact with their listeners in a more casual way than they ever do in a concert hall, and they see the direct emotional impact their playing has on people going through tough times. They experience the relationship-building quality of music-making in a deeper way than the traditional classical concert experience usually affords.

Furthermore, there is an outside-inside benefit that takes place, which seems to make their playing all the more meaningful to the hospital community. Knowing that the musicians are formally coming from an outside music organization, into the hospital, feels connective. We are reminded that the hospital is a part of the wider community. We are reminded that we are more than patients, staff, visitors of the sick – we are people.

Creating community music programs within a facility doesn’t need to be hard. So many musicians in the community are searching for opportunities to perform. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Partner with a local conservatory or community music school, inviting their students to give regular recitals in your facility. Organizing recitals within the school can be time-consuming and tiring. If students have the opportunity to perform regularly somewhere with a built-in audience, they will be able to practice their performance skills, grow as musicians, and experience something meaningful.
  2. Connect with a local musical theatre and/or opera company, and invite them to give workshop dress rehearsals in your facility. These may look like simplified performances of a scene or act, with minimal props. This gives them an opportunity to practice, as well as promote their upcoming performances. It provides exciting and unusual entertainment in the facility.
  3. Reach out to a local booking agency that schedules big touring musical acts. See if they can set aside 5 tickets for each show that you can raffle off in your facility, or even better, see if they can occasionally send a big-name artist to your facility to give a little performance. Artists – particularly highly successful ones – are often looking for ways to connect to their communities and do something morally gratifying through their art.