Breathe In: Breathe Out Performers profile series: Jean Kelly

Woman, recent mother, stellar performer – Breathe resident performer Jean Kelly is the star of a new instalment in our profile series about the Breathe In: Breathe Out programme. In this blog, she shares with us her experiences of performing within community and in-patient areas within Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust as well as what her Desert Island Discs would be.

Part of our Women’s Day Celebration.


Why do you play for Breathe, within healthcare settings?

I’ve met so many interesting and inspiring people, with incredible stories to tell. I really enjoy the immediate interaction that I don’t get at a regular classical music concert.

Every concert is different, it keeps me on my toes as I never know what music will be requested by the audience of staff, patients and visitors – from Whitney Houston to popular Classical pieces.

You have an unusual role within Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust – how do people respond?

Sometimes with shock when I appear with a giant harp. Often delight at hearing music played on the harp that they would not expect to hear. The nicest thing is that often the music encourages strangers in a waiting room/ward to talk to each other. I often hear feedback that it helps to pass the time and that it makes people feel less stressed. A doctor once remarked that ‘live music is more healing than drugs’.

Are there any units you go to that you particularly look forward to visiting? Why?

Every unit is different but the staff throughout the hospitals are absolutely amazing and always welcome the music – this puts patients at ease and encourages them to participate with the performance, whether by asking for requests, singing along or even dancing. I have had some really fun concerts at the Patient Transport area at Guy’s Hospital where staff have joined me and sung and danced with the harp for the patients.

When you’re not working with Breathe, what else do you do?

I have a very eclectic career as a harpist which ranges from playing with orchestras in venues such as the Albert Hall, recording soundtracks for films including Paddington 2 to playing folk music in my local pub. My daughter was born in St. Thomas’ hospital last year, where we received amazing care, and I am thoroughly enjoying my new life as a mum.

Do you feel that playing within this context has an impact on your artistic practice?

Yes, for example, I really enjoy when someone requests a song I have never played before and I have to try and work it out on the harp there and then. It feels wonderful to connect directly with people through music and to see the impact of a live performance – sometimes in a more formal concert setting I don’t get the chance to see or speak to the audience.

What would your chosen Desert Island Discs be?

This is very difficult to answer as I love listening to music but at the moment in my car stereo I have:

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall

The soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where art thou?

Bach – St. John Passion

Tina Turner – Greatest Hits

James Taylor – Hourglass

Puccini – La Bohème

Gwyneth Herbert – Bittersweet and Blue

Joni Mitchell – Blue

Sally Beamish – Seavaigers