A Trip to the Hospital - Britten Sinfonia

A Trip to the Hospital

Our Learning and Participation Producer reflects on a pre-Christmas trip to Addenbrooke’s

Staff in masks take a selfie next to a piano in a hospital

“I think it’s going to be a bit of a “squizz” with the keyboard today” said Rosie O’Donovan, Cambridge University Hospitals Arts Coordinator who organises our visits to Addenbrookes Hospital. I thought to myself ‘What a fabulous word’ as Rosie continued to introduce pianist, Dawn Hardwick to the programme – a series of pop-up performances around the hospital with the aim of bringing the joy of live music to patients, staff and visitors.

I’m Chris Bell, and I’ve recently been appointed as Learning & Participation Producer at Britten Sinfonia. It’s been an interesting time to join the organisation following the recent announcement that we were the only orchestra to be cut from Arts Council England’s National Portfolio. Despite this difficult news, I have been so inspired by the support from the public, colleagues across the arts sector and members of the orchestra, and I’m still excited by the possibilities ahead of us.

My trip to Addenbrooke’s hospital last month marked my first project with the orchestra. My new colleague, Lauren Hill, has been organising these visits and is accompanying me to the hospital for the first time. She introduces me to Rosie O’Donovan and Alex Elbro, who are part of the Hospital Arts team, and we make our way to the Children’s Outpatients clinic for our first performance. Dawn Hardwick joins us today on electric piano – we unpack the keyboard in the waiting room, appropriately decorated with festive tinsel.

Dawn begins by playing ‘Somewhere in my Memory’ from the Christmas classic Home Alone. It’s been a few years since I watched the film, so it was nice to reminisce with staff on reception. Dawn treated us to some jazz arrangements of Christmas carols and I found myself clapping along with families, riffing around the lyrics of The Christmas Song. A little girl wanders up to the piano looking intrigued… We say hello and she runs behind her mum before finding a toy piano and begins playing along!

Following this, we pack up the keyboard and move to the Oncology Outpatients clinic – a difficult space for me personally having recently lost a family member to leukaemia. This moment of sadness is lifted by a joyful receptionist who tells me she’s been excited for this visit all week. After lunch, we move to the Elderly Ward on the 4th Floor.

The patients on there offer some requests for Dawn including ‘If I loved you’ from the musical Carousel.  Dawn quickly finds the sheet music on her iPad and we are treated to a ‘magic moment’ with the patient, who tells us the story of how she met her husband dancing to this tune in a dance hall. We could have stayed listening to these songs all day but we have one final appointment in the outpatients waiting area where hundreds of visitors pass by – some waiting to listen to Silent Night, others smiling and stopping to say thank you.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this exciting collaboration with Addenbrooke’s takes us… We often think about community music as something which is participatory and workshop led. However, the session today reminded me it doesn’t always have to be – Whether you are engaging with an orchestra in a concert hall or sitting briefly in a waiting room, that’s important to me.


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