Breathe Songs from Evelina - Breathe

Breathe Songs from Evelina

Wed 19 Jun

What’s it like to tell your story through song, and can collaborative songwriting bring wellbeing benefits for people going through the toughest of times? Over six months, we explored that question in collaboration with staff and parents of long-stay patients in Evelina London Children’s Hospital. The songs that were co-created are witness to the resilience, strength, love and hope that are stitched into the experience of spending months or more with a baby or child in hospital.

Lead Artist on the pilot, songwriter Todd Henkin, worked collaboratively with parents to hear their stories – bedside on wards, beside incubators, in hospital corridors and family rooms. As they opened up, he identified themes and refrains that became verses and choruses.  These experiences are often hidden from the outside world, familiar only within the hospital walls, where the sound of footsteps down the corridor has a significant resonance (is it a doctor bringing news?) and the air is thick with the beeping of hospital machines. Often a simple prompt like, “tell me about your experience of parenthood”, would elicit remarkable stories with themes of travel, family and faith, and powerful metaphors that spark empathy and insight. Before they knew it, participants were creating lyrics, and after 2 or 3 one-hour sessions, a brand-new song was born.

"At first we were not sure but after hearing the finished project I was blown away. My singing voice is not the greatest but being able to share this part of my life with family and friends meant the world to me because it allowed us to bring them into our situation and helped them to understand what we were feeling at our lowest point."
Parent of long-stay patient in Evelina London Children’s Hospital. 

We were also honoured to be asked to write a song with Evelina’s Neonatal community to celebrate World Prematurity Day in November 2023. Songwriter Todd collaborated with family members and staff to co-create a song, called Until it Overflows. The response from Evelina healthcare teams to the work with parents has been overwhelmingly positive, and their feedback reflects the potential of this intervention to complement existing support structures for parents. As one Neonatal staff member put it: Having the chance to work with the songwriter, write their story to music has brought joy and a way to heal that isn’t possible through any of the other activities we offer.

The finished products are expressions of the power of song to synthesise an experience – as well as being great tunes!

You can listen to some of the songs here. These were recorded in a studio in January, performed by Todd Henkin (guitars and vocal), Beth Hopkins (saxophone, keys and vocal) and Keziah Thomas (harp).

One Day at a Time by Dahlia Thomas and Zacarie Vital

Dahlia and Zacarie wrote this song during their son’s year-long stay in Evelina. It celebrates their resilience and support of each other – one day at a time.

She’s So Strong by Hamen and Umesh

Hamen & Umesh wrote this song about their daughter, Lara, who spent nearly 2 years in Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

Strawberry Hope by Abeikpeng

This song was written by Abeikpeng, aged 7, whilst receiving dialysis on Beach Ward.

Melody Everywhere by Leonie Haughton

Leonie wrote this song (and sang lead vocal) while spending time on the Neonatal Unit and it reflects her lifelong relationship with music, and its power to heal.

Gracie, Bundle of Hope

This song was written on the ward in Evelina and celebrates the prospect of going home and uniting the family.

We lean on each other.  Like branches joined together. And say ‘one day at a time.’ 
From One Day at a Time by parents Dahlia Thomas and Zacarie Vital. 

This pilot formed part of Breathe’s delivery of the Performing Arts Programme at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, generously funded by Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity.

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