Viola & dog therapy at Addenbrooke's - Britten Sinfonia

Viola & dog therapy at Addenbrooke’s

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the hospital with my viola. Many years ago, Britten Sinfonia ran a workshop project on the Children’s ward which I remember with great affection, but today it was just me and my fiddle. First joyful moment was to see Natalie Ellis, one-time member of the Britten Sinfonia team, telling me about her current role on the arts team of this gigantic hospital – I knew straight away that we were all part of the family.

Addenbrookes is the size of a small town; there are so many people, residents, workers, in-patients, and out-patients passing through each day, and the arts team has the job of culturally enriching that community. In the morning, my contribution was in some way like an aural complement to the varied original artwork displayed on the hospital walls. I passed through some of the public spaces – waiting areas, staff areas, even the busy food hall at lunchtime, finding some aural spaces to fill.

A dog enjoys listening to a viola player in a hospital ward

Sometimes I brought repertoire – a spot of Bach was well received in oncology reception – a quiet space for the mind to rest and reset perhaps. In the paediatric reception, it was a little more like a secret conversation – improvising, watching, and responding, and for the busy public area, I looked to find some busier and more upbeat sounds – a glittering bright texture, both to cut through the hubbub and to reflect the space. In the staff area, a little more like a recital to accompany the vaccine queue. I had an attentive canine listener too – the therapy dog dropped by…

In the afternoon, we toured some wards and again the challenge was to find the right material for the moment. Sometimes it was appropriate to perform – some more Bach, a few folk tunes and even a short piece by Howard Skempton! But when invited into a bay, I played whatever came to mind -being a musician, that meant blending and absorbing recent musical experience. If I were to analyse what I brought to one set, I would probably say I started with one of the folk tunes I brought and channelled it into an improvisation at least a little inflected by the Max Richter piece we had just given at Saffron Hall. Imagine how flattered I was when one of the gentlemen said it put him in mind of fiddlers from the western isles he encountered when he was at sea – now that’s community music!

Bridget Carey, viola player