by Author VickyC

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Be My Buddy: Paired Music Delivery at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital is just completing its’ Youth Music funded ‘Music as Medicine’ project, an eighteen month programme working with children and young people who are long term patients. Alder Hey is one of the biggest and busiest children’s hospitals in Europe, and has had a music in health programme since 2006. During this time, the programme has grown exponentially, and we have been able to trial different approaches and strategies to delivering music with patients.

Our ‘Music as Medicine’ project was a partnership with Live Music Now North West, a nationally renowned organisation that supports early career musicians to offer live music to audiences from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds. Back in 2015-16, we ran a Youth Music funded project to support the professional development of four early career musicians from Live Music Now, giving them vital experience and training in a paediatric healthcare setting. Supported by Lead Musician and Live Music Now Alumni, Georgina Aasgaard, the four musicians grew with confidence, developing new skills in improvisation and workshop delivery in a paediatric health setting. After the project finished, they all continued to deliver music sessions at Alder Hey, furthering their experiences and skills even more.

These four musicians were invited to take part in our new project, ‘Music as Medicine’ but this time, they were asked to take on a new role as mentors to four new, inexperienced musicians from Live Music Now, delivering sessions together on four distinct areas of the hospital. This “Buddy” system, it was hoped, would further develop the four experienced musicians to become confident mentors, whilst at the same time, imparting new skills and experiences for the new early career musicians. Training was given to the mentors in how to mentor and support another musician before the programme began and careful thought was given to the dynamics of the pairing;  it was important that their style and instruments would work well together, that their personalities would complement each other. Of the four pairings, two pairs had worked professionally together before and two had not. All four pairs of Buddies delivered 14 sessions on the wards together; additional time was given for training and for each pairing to reflect together afterwards and write up their notes. After the 14 sessions were completed, the pairs split up, with each musician delivering 8 solo sessions on different wards. This was a chance for the mentees to put into practice all of the skills that they had learnt with their mentor, as well as experiment with their own approaches. For the mentors, it was the opportunity to deliver music in an area of the hospital that was new to them.

So – what impact has the “Buddy” system had on our mentors and mentees? For the mentors, there have been huge benefits: mentoring another musician has made them aware of how their own skills had developed since they had first started working at Alder Hey.

“I have found the role of mentor to be challenging, joyful, and insightful. It was especially interesting to be reminded of where I was when I first started the project three years ago and appreciate how much I've grown since then.”  Katie, mentor.

For many mentors, the process of helping another individual led them to evaluate and analyse their own practice.  In having to explain reasons for their decisions in de-brief sessions, it helped their own thought processes become clearer. Mentoring added another layer to their practice, requiring more thought, energy and concentration.

“I feel like I have had to find more clarity in my ideas via the need to explain and justify my reasoning to someone else when introducing my practise to them on the ward.” Delia, mentor.

The process seemed to support the mentors to reflect upon their own practice. It also challenged them to explain to their mentee that a session could not be pre-planned, that sessions would emerge organically. And for the mentor, having to consider the needs of another professional musician, as well as the patient, presented further challenge.

“To compare (their) approach to how you would respond….to step back, to have time to reflect without the pressure of keeping the flow of the session going.”

It was also felt that the patients benefitted greatly from having the Buddies on the ward, creating a greater range of repertoire and a richer experience. The combination of instruments had given them more opportunities to reach a wider group of patients and increase the value of the sessions.

“It’s really interesting mentoring for the first time in the space, it’s not just my ideas, it’s P’s as well and that is such a joy and makes the job easier; you get the interaction between the two of you and the kids like that too. The kids see us working together and they want to work with us.” Bea, mentor.

“I have loved working in a pair, it’s a lot easier. It has opened up what I can deliver, repertoire has widened.” Delia, mentor

Whilst the role of the mentor was to support their mentee, it appears that working in a “Buddy” system had huge benefits emotionally for the mentors too:

“The process of paring has been collaboratively valuable – P has come up with new ideas, and we support each other emotionally especially when things are hard. Your pair knows better than anybody what has gone on and what you’ve been through. It creates a bond for you both. It’s mutually beneficial being able to talk it out.” Bea, mentor

By the end of the “Buddy” phase, each pair had found their own natural way of working together:

“I have loved working in a pair, it’s a lot easier. It has opened up what I can deliver, repertoire has widened. There have been no issues. We’ve understood the dynamics of a pairing and developed it. We’re able to react more to situations, with less planning now, less hesitation. This comes with experience. There is a big difference to pairs, you can feel lonely on your own.” Delia, mentor

For the mentees, the “Buddy” system helped them to acclimatise into the hospital setting, the approach of music making within hospital which draws upon of improvisation and developing individually responsive approaches to working with patients.

“I find it very reassuring to have a mentor – it’s been quite a big learning curve but having a mentor with experience really helps you develop.” Ben, mentee

The time for reflection at the end of sessions was seen as extremely valuable:

“Having a reflection after sessions really helped in thinking critically about what worked and what didn’t.”

All mentees commented on how their mentor had support the emotionally, when faced with challenging situations on the wards:

“I didn’t really know K very well but I’m so glad to have the pairing, to help me to become familiar with the environment. We supported each other, sometimes sending a text in the evening. There have been difficult situations.” Elfair, mentee.

Ros Hawley, who has worked with her partner Mark Fish for over ten years at Manchester Children’s Hospital, agrees that the pairs approach is both positive and strong. Over time, and over different settings, they have developed a shared understanding of their roles that is intuitive.

“Over time, you re-visit the same situations, and therefore you develop a shared understanding of how you respond to situations, this is built up over time.”

She warns of complacency, of getting too “comfy” when you become so familiar with your repertoire and how your partner works, and suggests:

“It’s important to allow time to refresh and re-energise your practice – learn new skills, gain new repertoire, see together people work.”

There are some challenges in having a “Buddy”system. Not all musicians will get along and work together comfortably, no matter how much careful consideration is given to the pairing. Thankfully, this didn’t happen with our project but for one pairing who knew each other before the project started, discussions had to take place to get the balance right: “At the beginning, it was hard to get the mentor/mentee dynamics, we are so used to each other.”  As the Arts Coordinator at Alder Hey, I’m also aware of the financial implications of a “Buddy” system – bluntly speaking, two musicians cost twice as much as one and in these financially difficult times, that has to be taken into consideration. And coordinating dates between different musicians with busy diaries proved at times to be a challenge.

Taking all of that into account, would I recommend a “Buddy” system as a way of introducing inexperienced musicians into this complex and challenging environment? The answer is undoubtedly yes. The pairing gave the new musicians vital experience of working in a children’s hospital and the reassurance and insight that they needed from an experienced partner. By the end of the process, both musicians were working much more on an equal footing, with the mentees ready to start the sessions on their own: “At the end of 14 ward sessions with my mentor, even though I really enjoyed them, I felt ready to do my own sessions, to be able to only deliver what I wanted to do”, Elfair, mentee.

Through investing time, energy and resources into a “Buddy” system that supported both experienced and inexperienced musicians, we have been able to increase the number of musicians who are confident and experienced enough to deliver music with our patients. These musicians will become part of the widening team at Alder Hey that provides such a vital role in engaging children and young people through music.


Vicky Charnock, Arts Coordinator, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital