Does it run in the family?
Musicians: Kat Eaton (vocals) Pete Lee (piano)
I’ve done a few sessions with The Spitz at Northwick Park Hospital but today was my first with my long-term collaborator Pete Lee. Playing on a hospital ward has many similarities to playing in a care home, although you may need to jump out of the way for a fast-moving bed or a hurrying doctor!
We were knew the environment would be more emotionally-charged as unfortunately some of the patients probably wouldn’t be leaving these wards. I recalled a previous visit, when a woman who was sitting with her dying mother and finding it hard to hold back the tears. It was challenging to assess whether the music was triggering or comforting for her in that moment so that was something to be aware of today. After a coffee and a preliminary chat, we arrived on Hardy Ward to a very warm welcome from the care workers.
Pete and I began on Bay E, an all-male ward. There were three gentlemen in particular that were very engaged. One man instantly requested Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ and anything by The Beatles so we played ‘Hey Jude’ and encouraged them to sing on the “nah nah na-naaah’s" Another man asked for some Shirley Bassey and we were only too happy to attempt Goldfinger. My Shirley impersonation was met with a few good-natured chuckles.
One of the nurses watching on commented “interesting chord progression”. Pete, Thom and I discussed how there must be so many would-be musicians and music enthusiasts working in the hospital and it made us happy to think that we might have given him a little respite from the stress of working here.
In Bay D (all female bay) we met Naomi who welcomed Pete and Thom in by exclaiming “Ohh handsome young men... and a woman!” The boys were made up for the day as you can imagine. We spoke for a few minutes and she told us her whole family were musicians. Her son and grandson were double bass players and her father and grandfather were cellists.
KE - “Music must run in the family then?”
N - “Gosh no, I can’t play a note – I was an actress”.
We played a few jazz standards while patients ate their lunch. Naomi looked like she was in her element.
N - “This is the perfect setting – lunch and live music! When are you coming back?”
The final bay we visited was another all-female bay. One patient was very chatty and joyful and was excited to hear some live music. We launched into Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek To Cheek’ and she sang along and clapped at the end. Then we decided to play something a bit more mellow and a bit more modern - Alicia Keys’ ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ caused some tears for our chatty friend, which caused me to hold back my own tears. It’s humbling when moments like this happen. Instead of stopping, which one might think would be for the best in this situation, we continued and Pete played a moving solo. Later Pete and I reflected how important it is for us to embrace times like these, to help people on the edge of their emotions to positively emote and release. “To really get the gold, you have to live through those moments”.
As a farewell to these lovely ladies, we sensed another upbeat jazz standard would lift spirits so we played ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’, Nina Simone’s version probably being the most well-known. This did the trick and soon her tears were replaced with smiles.
During our final stop, an all-male bay, a lovely Northern Irish man requested something by John Denver. We had to admit that we didn’t know any. This wasn’t a problem however, as he launched into all four verses of his favourite John Denver classic completely a capella. He remembered every single word, kept in key the whole time and sang with passion with his eyes closed. Afterwards he told us jokes and spoke about his sister who he speaks to every day. He’d seemed lethargic when we first arrived, but was full of energy when we left. Such is the power of music.