Hannah Opstadt

Workshop Leader

As the Autumn draws in, I feel very fortunate to be looking forward to a second year of leading interactive music sessions for Viva's 'Fever' programme. The project takes us to children's hospices and hospital wards across the East Midlands where I have the great pleasure of working with two of a number of wonderful Viva musicians, together with children and young people with a wide range of needs and illnesses, some of which are life-limiting. We come prepared with a selection of trio repertoire, sometimes tied into a theme, but often we find that the participants (which can include staff, parents and siblings too!) respond well to improvised music. For me, the biggest challenge is that we don't usually know who we will meet before we get to any given setting, so I find myself having to really trust my instincts and be spontaneous, whilst communicating with the team and delivering an inclusive session. Often we work with a small group of children, but there are also many moments of one to one music making.

Over the past year, there have been some truly beautiful moments and connections made but I'd like to tell one particular anecdote. We were asked by hospital staff to come and play for a very poorly young boy, who was clearly in a lot of pain and was very distressed. We musicians started playing and then improvising around a couple of lullabies and melodies that we'd been playing earlier that day. It was astonishing to see a real transformation in the boy who began to appear calmer, when a nurse pointed to a monitor showing that his fast heart rate was getting slower. It continued to slow over the next minutes. I'm no scientist, but what I saw that day was the true calming and soothing abilities of live music. The nurse was clearly very moved, as we all were. We only spent a short time with this particular boy, but I'll never forget it.

I'm hugely grateful to Sinfonia Viva and BBC Children in Need for making this project happen. The value of such a programme cannot be underestimated. Whether it provides 30 seconds of distraction in the waiting room before a dreaded procedure, or allows a raw human connection to be made for an intense few minutes with someone who is unable to communicate verbally, it allows the children to be creative individuals for a while - and not just 'the patient'.