The Lullaby Diaries (Part 1)

In February 2010 Vital Arts and Spitalfields Music worked together to bring live music to families and new born babies on the maternity ward at the Royal London Hospital.  The musicians performed and taught a selection of lullabies from around the world. With the help of willing families they also wrote simple songs in Arabic, Bengali, Somali and English.

The following are excerpts from the diary that was kept during our visits:

Session 1

For our first session everyone was a bit unsure about what to expect and how to act. The first room we went into was Transitional Care where some babies and some mothers had been through a particularly difficult labour. The atmosphere was very thick and incredibly quiet! It was difficult at first to know how to use the space with the instruments, where to place ourselves so that we could see everyone in the room? And how loud could we be? Our artists Zoe Palmer, John Barber and Sonia Mehta began with singing a lullaby then took a baby’s name to improvise a song. It was a good way to include and integrate but harder for those whose names have not yet been chosen…. There was some shyness around using their voices or perhaps just exhaustion. They were enjoying listening to the music said how it gave them a break from thinking!

Having told the artists not to worry about speaking louder and singing louder the next session started much more at ease. The atmosphere in the room was much more relaxed than the Transitional Care room generally and where to place everyone in the room was s made easier by a free bed space. We shared some songs and noticing a greater cultural mix Zoe asked where each family was from. We then made up a song based on the word sleep in Somali (Sehau) and Polish (Spij).

In room three there was a mix of Russian, Bengali and Somali families and they all seemed to be immediately very engaged and happy to have music on the ward. Everyone enjoyed listening, one dad was tapping his feet, others were joining in and some were taking photos and videoing. There were lots of questions being asked about the instruments and the parents were intrigued by the words to the songs. By including their own language in the songs the parents felt they could then sing the songs at home to their baby. We had wondered about whether having a male artist might make the mothers uncomfortable in such intimate settings but so far it seems to encourage and enable the fathers to feel more comfortable with singing.

Some of the comments we received at the end of the session were:

“The ward felt wonderful to come back to – so lifted”

“The staff asked if you could stay forever”

“It is such a relief to get the curtains open”

“The Transitional babies are so used to horrible things happening to them -you coming in was such a welcome relief to the parents that you didn’t want anything from them but their voices.”

“It just takes the edge off the experience” (in ref to transitional care)

Tamsin Oldham
Programme Manager: Learning & Participation

Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks for Part 2 of Tamsin’s Lullaby Diaries.


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