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Regional Arts Development Central West NSW
musicians in hospitals training
A pilot program training professional musicians to deliver close intimate interactions in hospitals using music.
Pilot program 2016:

Having live music played to you in hospital might be out of the ordinary, but in Parkes and Forbes hospitals this new experience has been a dose of joy.

Musicians Kerrie Davies, Andrew Davies and James Whalan made the first of more than a dozen visits to the hospitals last month, playing gentle, uplifting songs to patients, staff and visitors.

The music sessions are a partnership between Arts OutWest, Mitchell Conservatorium and Lachlan Health Service.  The sessions are part of the culture and arts program being imbedded into the new facilities.

“The aim is to introduce music that has a positive impact on the ambience for patients, visitors and staff,” Arts OutWest arts and health coordinator Christine McMillan said.

One patient at Parkes Hospital said: “I was here last week and Arts OutWest had music, gee they were good, just the right music for the hospital.”

A visitor added “Yes they were great! This place [Parkes Hospital] really looks after you in lots of different ways. We are so lucky.”

The musicians perform a repertoire of old time, country and western, blues, rock and roll and folk songs, moving around the hospital from public areas to wards, on the invitation of people in each room. The times spent in ward rooms vary from just a few minutes to up to half an hour depending on the response from the patients.

“We’re aiming to create an intimate musical experience with the patients,” Kerrie Davies said. “Live music experiences are used in many hospitals across Australia and around the world.”


In maternity there have been performances for mothers with newborns, and mothers just about to give birth. In the physiotherapy unit at Parkes the musicians are working on “a rhythmical repertoire that creates stronger energy for patients”.

“Staff have responded very well to the music sessions – it’s been a welcome interlude during our busy working days,” said Lachlan Health Service Manager, Liz Mitchell.

The Parkes and Forbes music program is part of the Lachlan Health Service Culture and Arts Working Group. The Lachlan Health Services Project team engaged regional arts development organisation Arts OutWest to integrate culture and arts into the Forbes and Parkes Hospital redevelopments. The NSW Government provided $113.7 million to redevelop the Forbes Hospital and build a new Parkes Hospital. A component of this funding was used to help deliver the Lachlan Health Service Culture and Arts program.


Part 2: Training musicians in hospitals

‘Life changing’ is how one of the six trainee Musicians in Hospitals described our training program at Parkes Hospital in June 2017.

After the 2016 pilot program in Parkes, Lachlan Health Service funded Arts OutWest to run this new training for local six professional musicians from the region.

The program calls on musicians to work in flexible, fluid, responsive and dynamic ways in hospitals.

“The trainees are all experienced musicians and many have backgrounds in health or social work, but this training was something new for everyone. One participant described it as ‘life changing’,” Arts OutWest executive director Tracey Callinan said.


Six musicians from across the NSW Central West were selected from a long list of candidates. They were Blair Gough (from Woodstock), Drew Farrant-Jayet (Parkes), Leah O’Rourke (Parkes), Stephan de Wit van der Merwe (Parkes), Kenneth Smith (Orange) and Karina Hill (Oberon).

The two-day training program included video link-up sessions with UK-based experts Opus and with music therapist Kerrie Davies. Training covered techniques for engaging by the bedside, ethics, suitable repertoire and working with health professionals. The trainees also undertook practical experience in the Hospital.

“This type of program is not ‘music therapy’ and it’s not performance, it’s about a close intimate interaction using music,” Ms Callinan explained. “This can be difficult, challenging work but it’s also very rewarding work,” she said.

Their practical sessions took the musicians to a variety of places in the hospital – rehabilitation, palliative care, general wards and even playing to a newborn baby.

“There’s a wide body of research that live music experiences can have beneficial outcomes for people in hospitals and aged care,” Ms Callinan said. “For patients, visitors and staff this kind of music interaction can be fun or a welcome distraction, but it can also – as our trainee musicians found – be quite emotional. The musicians had some amazing responses during their sessions at Parkes Hospital last week.”

The musicians will complete their training with follow-up, supervised sessions at other local hospitals or aged care facilities. The trainees were paid for their participation in the program.

Arts OutWest is now looking at funding to repeat this training for more musicians and looking at paid opportunities for the trained musicians to work in hospitals and aged care facilities around the region.

“There’s been a huge amount of interest in this program, including enquiries from inter-state,” Ms Callinan said. “We’re excited by the possibilities of this work.”

Blair said:

“It was fantastic, we went to Parkes and all met up,” he said 

“There are a variety of musicians, there’s a harp player, a timber drum, a ukulele player, myself playing guitar and harmonica. 

“We all got on really well and did the training with Skype sessions… On the second day we went into pairs and went into three different situations in the hospital.

“It was life changing.” 


Blair recalls one situation where he was asked by the family of a palliative care patient to play at their bedside. 

“We were in the physiotherapy department… we played upbeat songs,” he said.  

“Then this family came and asked if we could play in palliative care.” 

“He loved music and when we played, he opened his eyes and kicked his leg and he hadn’t opened his eyes all day.” 


He said this moment has inspired him to want to continue playing in hospitals. 

“It was awesome and I love it and the response from the family was so incredible, they are so grateful and the staff as well,” he said. 


“It creates a great atmosphere in the whole hospital and people love it, it’s different.” 

Blair said he has gigs lined up in Parkes and Forbes hospital. 

“It’s getting more recognition as a genuine health practice. I hope it gets more popular, you can just see the benefits it provides.” 


The criteria we put out for selecting the musicians:
  • Not just good musicians but people who share their music well, who are comfortable interacting (sometimes one-on-one) with people and responding to their needs, who are adaptable.
  • You don’t need to be a professional musician or have music qualifications but you must be able to demonstrate accomplishment.
  • Open to musicians of all styles and genres – although people who have a versatile and wide repertoire have an advantage.
  • Because this particular training and work involves moving around the hospital, visiting spaces for short periods and moving on, and working in a variety of small spaces, the musicians should play instruments that are portable and not extremely loud. Being able to sing can also be useful.
  • Maybe the people were looking for work the live music scene at night? Perhaps they’re musicians who work in education? Maybe they have experience working in other areas of health?
  • Participants must be based in the Arts OutWest service area in the NSW Central West.
  • People with a commitment and availability to ongoing work in this area.
“Then this family came and asked if we could play in palliative care.”

Location: Main training in Parkes with follow ups sessions in Cowra, Parkes, Orange, Oberon.

When: Pilot program 2016. Training musicians 2017.

Continued through our work in Oberon and Grenfell MPSs 2019-2020.

Funded by: Pilot program as part of Lachlan Health Service Culture and Arts Program funded by NSW Health

Partnering with: Western NSW Local Health District

Artists: Blair Gough (from Woodstock), Drew Farrant-Jayet (Parkes), Leah O’Rourke (Parkes), Stephan de Wit van der Merwe (Parkes), Kenneth Smith (Orange) and Karina Hill (Oberon).

Training delivered by: Opus, Kerrie Davies, Tracey Callinan, Christine McMillan.

Thanks also to: Mitchell Conservatorium of Music, staff at hospitals.

Image credits: Jay Lee Zagrovic