Sound Healing in the NHS

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Every year College Members gather at Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny to offer staff and patients of the Hospital an experience of Sound Healing. For more information about this project please visit our Soundscape section.

Sound Healing our NHS - Sally Little

Take singers from Abercappella Community choir, Tom Williams (Consultant Paediatrician at Nevill Hall Hospital), Members of Arts Alive, Chrys Blanchard (composer, musician, creator of theatre and spectacle, events, ceremonies, rites of passage and sound healer) plus friends and supporters and you have the ingredients for a three sound healing installation. This took place at Nevill Hall Hospital Abergavenny, during the afternoon of 18th October 2009.

It began for me with seeing water leaping in a Tibetan bowl as somone drew a pestle slowly around the outside edge - in a yurt in a field on an organic farm on our annual holiday at Unicorn Voice Camp.

Chrys spoke quietly, "if this is what sound does to the water in this bowl, imagine what sound does to the water in every cell of your body..."

The pestle moved, the water fizzed, light caught in every jumping droplet. There were startled tears for some. She showed us how to breathe and sing single tones from the vessels of our own bodies. This more internal singing from the level of each chakra, with its particular vowel shape and imagined colour felt rejuvenating. We learned to relax with each other and to accept and offer singing into each other's bodies with loving intention. Sometimes in sharing where we noticed we were drawn to sing towards another's body, we heard how this was an area of suffering or difficulty for them.

A ‘modern’ NHS hospital building at night is not a pretty place. Utilitarian and ubiquitous in design it could have been anywhere in the UK. After a heart-opening day together in a community hall in the town centre, and a good meal, unloading the gongs, crates of percussion instruments and countless large cushions into the fluorescent lighting of Outpatients Waiting area was a low point.

"Why ARE we singing to a bloody building?" someone muttered, as we dragged rows of institutional seating around in the airless echoing hall.

Chrys, using the last of her weary voice, welcomed us all as we sat in a circle bent to accommodate the load-bearing pillar. I began to notice fresh smiling people: Abercapella Chrys's community choir, and friends had come to join us. Voices became charged with energy as we chatted and then sang Taize together under this high ceiling.

Nevill Hall Hospital grounds flooded with sharp autumn sunlight: I walked with my husband and friend breathing in the colours of leaves, the sheep grazing beyond the perimeter fence and in all directions the sudden steep hills of Wales. A notice announcing this "Aneurin Bevan Hospital" reminded of the birth of the NHS in the expectation that it would become redundant as the big illnesses of the day diminished with cradle to grave care.

Now 60 years on governments attempt to corale with Definable Targets and Nice Guidelines their flock of resources in the ever widening territory of care and treatment possibilities, and the flock attempt to make human the care while delivering electronically the necessary Yan Tan Tethera of statistic gathering. We were warmed by the sun and by the discovery that the Welsh parliament made hospital parking and prescriptions free.

Outpatient Waiting was now spread with a borrowed acting cloth of blues, the pillars cloaked in metre high reflecting foil now windows of light reflecting the blues and turquoises of our clothing and the Tibetan bowls clustering at the foot. Gongs stood on the perimeter, as did coloured cushions and two covered massage tables for height.

Hospital seating lined the walls leaving a wide margin of clear floor for people to walk around the installation. Daylight poured in from windows up by the high roof, down past three exquisite embroidered banners each stretching right across from one side of "Outpatients" to the other.

And there were poems set in coloured illustrations around the lower wall. Here, then, was a space in which people searching for ways to care for troubled minds or bodies were held by images of many people's hopes, dreams and inner lives. Not just a building. Staff in uniform and patients in slippers peeped in...

After a hearty sandwich lunch, we assembled on the acting mat. Around us was the hospital preparing for visiting time, a group of musical friends were by the main door with a one chord healing chair and various instruments for people to experiment with sound. A short passage way and Chrys's friend waited with balloons and to provide explanation. Abercapella's presence - some walking slowly around the margins, some sitting witnessing, some singing with us - made the area more accessible to our visitors that afternoon than a cloth with weird happenings and stark and empty room could possibly have done. It felt like concentric circles of human activity and stillness with us at the centre. It felt amazingly safe in this public place to be moving through our intimate cycles of sound, movement and attention.

First the long ‘ooh’ of the base chakra taken from the Hang drum with us all standing around on the cloth facing inwards. Chrys fed in the changes up through the chakras and she and Jonathon played Psaltery and Dulcima to our ‘aah’ at the heart chakra, turning outwards a little.

Gathering in little circles of four to hold the third eye chakra and send harmonics between and beyond our joined bodies. Swiftly we broke to fetch our instrument from its place and sit or lie in rest while gongs stirred the air. We were still. As the gongs died away 3 or 4 Wa-wa tubes called to each other across the cloth like birds beginning the dawn chorus.

Quickly pestles hummed the Tibetan bowls and little gongs, followed by a cacophony of the little percussion instruments we held up in delight to each other as we moved around. At the fourth repeat I discovered that lowering a tiny cymbal into a Tibetan bowl changed it's tone and we laughed.

A single chakra note rested our instruments and we turned towards Chrys, and soon returned instruments to their places and gathered ourselves into our healing groups. This felt the most intimate place in the cycle as we sang into our friend's body and too quickly withdrew and helped her up to begin the cycle over.

We expected few and felt the presence of many strangers that afternoon. What moved me most was their quiet, the length of time people stayed breathing, watching, sitting, walking round, a group in wheelchairs calling out, staff in uniform standing awhile. What did they make of it? No need to ask. "Out of the language door in through the love window" (Rumi). Some wrote on a leaf of the little paper tree at the edge their favourite sound.

Back at my work in the NHS somewhere in England the following morning my body held itself with an ease, my words seemed to rise from a still and humming place. "Work is love made visible" (Kahlil Gibran).

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