Musician: Marcus Bonfanti (guitar, vocals)
As we entered the ward on the sixth floor of Ealing Hospital, there was a slightly less busy feel than usual. Patients had just had their lunch and were having a little post-lunch lull. Some patients were asleep and others were now waiting for the next of the day’s events, be that a medical procedure or just their evening meal – which probably felt a long way away. Being in hospital is boring and we were greeted with surprise and excitement in each bay of the ward.
The first person we played for was a gentlemen who was sat in the corridor. Nurse Tracey (who was guiding us around) tried to engage him in conversation but he seemed a bit confused. She then asked if he’d like a quiet song or a dancing song. “Quiet song please…”
Marcus: “I started playing James Taylor’s Fire & Rain, he suddenly sat up and looked straight at me, he stayed like that for most of the song, remaining present and attentive. I then played Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and the same thing happened. It really felt like in that moment some sort of connection had been made”
We were asked to play for a gentleman in one of the side rooms “He’s a famous reggae musician!” The staff really created a joyous atmosphere in his room, singing and dancing which was exactly what it looked like he needed. Just some relief from the four walls he found himself confined to at that point. He asked Marcus if they could sing together when he is better, Marcus told him that “I truly hope we get to do that.”
The two ladies we played for in the next bay were ‘neighbours’ but couldn’t have been more different characters. MB: “One was very vocal, in a nice way, about the music she loved and we sang some Louis Prima songs together – she was also half Italian. “I’m having the time of my life! – Play something romantic!” The other lady seemed quite distressed, holding her head and crying. When a visitor arrived to see our Italian friend, I focussed more on the second lady and played her a quiet John Martyn song (May You Never). She started to become so much more peaceful and at one point closed her eyes and maybe even fell asleep for a while it was a beautiful thing to see. When we play in the bays I think the challenge is trying to cater to individuals especially those who may get overwhelmed by the sometimes sudden change in their surroundings. For example, when members of staff come in and enjoy the music too, singing and dancing, it’s a beautiful thing but also could potentially be quite intense for the patients. I was so happy to have this moment of calm with this lady which I think she really needed.
In the next bay, we met a father and his son who was visiting. They asked for some Irish songs so Marcus played The Wild Rover. “I haven’t seen Dad clap like that for years.” We chatted about music, about gigs and venues we’d each been to recently. It felt really good to share these experiences with appreciative family members.
In the final bay we met three women who were in very different states when we arrived. A lady and her visiting daughter were actively involved, singing, clapping and smiling. The second was clearly enjoying the music, but more passively, gently smiling and tapping the beat. The third was very agitated at first, shouting out and displaying involuntary physical movements, as Marcus played, she locked her eyes on to him and began clapping in time with John Denver’s Country Roads. As we said goodbye, she maintained eye contact and clapped us out of the room.
We made our way back to the staff room to collect guitar cases and jackets, disturbing some of the nurses on their thoroughly-deserved lunch break. “Let’s have one more song then!” A quick rendition of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds with the universal refrain “every little thing’s going to be alright” was the perfect end to the session and a reminder that we do this for the staff as much as for the patients.
MB: “We had a pretty special experience in every bay today, it was a particularly beautiful session, I loved it.”