In 2016, the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School invited our musicians to bring their creative, responsive approach to its young people, leading to our current three-year residency. The School, based at two sites in Camberwell and Beckenham, Kent, is attended by young people aged 8-18 from across London and the South East, all of whom are living with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions.
Mental health is a crucial issue for today’s young people with more than one in ten having a diagnosable condition, and more than half of adult mental health problems beginning in childhood. Presenting a broad range of conditions including anorexia and psychosis, the young people at Bethlem and Maudsley need transformational opportunities during a difficult time in their lives.
In each session, our musicians might play a short piece, but very quickly the focus switches to the students creating their own music, through improvisation and a gentle, responsive approach using orchestral instruments and technology.
“It felt like there was space for the students’ different personalities… Everyone contributed a lot to the overall musical texture and appreciated that they had a role to play.”
Creating music is a wonderful thing to do, but as Paul Andrews, music teacher at the school says:
“The focus of the sessions didn’t feel like they were really about improving the young people’s musical skills. They were more about collaboration and encouraging them to be creative with whatever musical skills they already possessed.”
Paul adds that for many of their students, the effect of their wider education through these sessions had been transformational:
“We had a young person who had hardly engaged in any education activity for more than 20 minutes in the past. He stayed and participated through the full two hours with your musicians and said that he was really enjoying it. He asked to delay his discharge so he could participate in further sessions!
“The social aspect of the project was another strength. Very rarely in our normal teaching week would we have the young people collaborating with each other as a team in the way that they did for the two-hour music sessions – a very long length of time for most of these young people.”
This is a significant step for young people who may not have been able to participate in any group activity for years without one-to-one support, and the growth in confidence and self-esteem that our music-making can bring is another transformative factor.
Gawain Hewitt, artistic leader for the project comments: “The young people were saying ‘I really like that’, owning the outcome, or ‘wow – I wrote that!’, really accepting that they had done something of worth.”
According to Gawain, “the sophistication and traditional ‘composition’ of the pieces we created” was an important factor for the young people, and cellist Becky Knight’s experience reflected students’ growing confidence in their own creativity and self-worth.
“It felt like there was space for the students’ different personalities, from kids quietly coming up with chords and patterns on keyboard that we could copy, to some confidently leading and sharing harmonic structure, with others just adding notes with chime bars. Everyone contributed a lot to the overall musical texture and appreciated that they had a role to play.”
The transformational effect of this music-making is clear to all those who have seen it, and we are exploring ways of providing the clinical and educational evidence of this with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.
At present, our project is one of only three of its kind in the UK, and we want to share the transformative nature of this project so that other young people in need can benefit.
City of London Sinfonia’s Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School residency is generously supported by Youth Music.
30 years of transforming lives through music
This article comes from City of London Sinfonia’s 2018-19 participation brochure, celebrating 30 years of transforming lives through music. You can read the full brochure online or get in touch with the CLS team to request your hard copy.