“Without music, life is a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
This quote doesn’t resonate with everyone, but I have an internal soundtrack. On days that there isn’t a song in my head, I know something is wrong. Music has always been a big part of my life and that of my whānau. My partner, Garth Blake, and I have both had previous careers in music and a hiatus from them. For me, this was due to medical studies and work, and for him family reasons. Gradually over time, the music has made its way back. I inherited my father’s instruments after his death, and when I completed my FACEM/PEM training I gifted myself a nice keyboard. Garth shipped some of his gear over from Canada, and together we kept accumulating instruments.
Human beings seek connection. The effects of music, especially when experienced in groups, on our health and well-being are well described, such as neurodevelopmental benefit in children and providing cognitive therapy for people with Alzheimer’s, stroke and brain injury. We know that music can be an effective adjunct to healing.
Experiences of when music has snuck into my medical practice stand out vividly in my memory as being extremely fulfilling:
When I was a house surgeon, a man with multiple injuries enduring a long stay on the orthopaedics ward and his whānau were playing a guitar and singing and I accepted an invitation to sing a U2 song with them before I went home.
I joined the patients of the mental health unit singing waiata, Māori songs or hymns which are often sung at gatherings or important events, at their Sunday service when I was on duty one weekend.
I was quietly singing as I walked across the ED floor, when a man with intellectual impairment began responding to it. We sang together for a few minutes.
Suddenly these patients and I saw each other differently. The connections were immediate, our doctor-patient relationships shifted. We were all instantly more human.
In my work with children undergoing a scary procedure, singing brings distraction, smiles and laughter. A little “Let it Go”, “You’re Welcome” or “Baby Shark” (do do do do do do) and you see them make eye contact, feel them relax – this is familiar, fun.
When I started my first FACEM/PEM job in Auckland, Drs Kim Yates and Johanne Egan noticed that I sang loud and proud during any waiata and soon they were tapping me on the shoulder to sing or bring my uke along to CME sessions to play with them. Kim, who has affiliations to Te Rarawa, an iwi/tribe in the Far North, then asked me to participate in supporting a waiata alongside her whānau for her Distinguished Service Award acceptance and in the handing over of the ACEM presidency to Dr. John Bonning in Hobart, 2019. I was humbled and grateful to be included in the cultural significance of these moments.
Then along came COVID-19. With the global pandemic’s increased stress, the PPE and social isolation creating new challenges in communicating kindness and empathy to our patients and colleagues, we began to see the emergence of footage from all over the world of people in lockdown reaching out through music and other creative outlets. From a lone trumpet player entertaining their neighbours from their balcony to whole neighbourhoods supporting each other from a distance. And then there was the surge of virtual music ensembles being produced the world over.
After Aotearoa New Zealand’s first lockdown in 2020, Jo was wanting to put together a DHB virtual musical thank you to the public for staying home during our first COVID-19 lockdown. Kim was invited to help with choosing an appropriate waiata, I was asked to help, and we got under way with “Tūtira mai ngā iwi” which translates to “Line up together, people”. This was the first adventure into virtual ensemble music for me and Garth, who helped with the production of the video.
We harangued our busy ED colleagues for willing volunteers, when they had a spare minute. Some were super keen, but it wasn’t easy for many who didn’t consider themselves musical – they were whakamā (shy, worried they would look or sound foolish) but when they saw the end result, that it was about togetherness, and that no one was singled out, they loved it and were lifted and connected by it! People started approaching me and were keen to be involved in something in the future. It truly brought joy and connection to our team.
Meanwhile, across the Tasman, Dr. Clare Skinner, current ACEM President and musician, was feeling the same connection and expression of shared experience through music. She, Jane Hart, Chris Wiseman and their team, began recruiting ED and other health care professionals and their whānau to their virtual project ED Musos. Clare contacted Kim regarding the cultural appropriateness of performing a Māori waiata, “Te Aroha”, that she’d fallen in love with at a conference in Rotorua, and Kim cc’d me in to help from a musical perspective. For myself and for hundreds of our Australasian colleagues (and beyond) it became a chance to connect with each other, and to give something back. ED Musos has produced five songs over the past 2 years, with over 200 members. The songs have been included in a DFTB conference, “Whole New ED”, and a cover of “Better Be Home Soon” by Crowded House was performed at the NSW Australian of the Year Awards in 2021, and ICEM 2022, and given a thumbs up by Neil Finn and Crowded House on social media as well as shared by Playing for Change – a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music.
Back at home, in and out of lockdown in Auckland, Garth and I have had time on our hands. He upgraded our recording software and video editing suite, and we started covering tunes and putting them on YouTube and Spotify for fun, inviting old friends and band mates to join us. We’ve recorded our own virtual choir for the song “Quiet” by Milck – an anthem for the Me Too movement with contributors from 20 different countries, including some of the ED Musos. This got dubbed “The Liquid Chicken Project” from a joke Garth read somewhere that we can’t quite recall.
Recently we were also asked to put together a small musical contribution from Aotearoa for the 2021 ACEM presidential inauguration which was held virtually due to COVID restrictions. Kim and I, along with our colleague and bassist Dr. David Schaevitz, formed a small trio, and with help on production from Garth, performed “Dream a Little Dream” alongside several other musical contributors. Later, the paediatric doctor in me couldn’t help but add some sock puppet back-up singers.
Music has revitalised relationships with friends, former band mates, and colleagues. We’ve made wonderful new connections with like-minded people. The resurrection of music in my life has put a song back into my heart and a spring in my step during a stressful and unpredictable time in all our lives.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
Tūtira mai ngā iwi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0mzR8FrCrc
The Liquid Chicken Project: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXuFPXXu6Hu5O8DKHANR_UQ
Playing For Change: https://playingforchange.com/
Dream a Little Dream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUMZ72UDBHU