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Interview by: Thamy Haque, Digital Fundraising Coordinator, Children’s Cancer North

I met Children’s Cancer North funded Music Therapist, Andy Rimmer, who just exuded a lot of passion in what he does. Andy is funded by our charity to provide music therapy to the children and young people spending challenging times on the cancer wards at The Great North Children’s Hospital.

A note from the interviewer

 

Andy’s interview was one that really stood out. Hearing about how his work impacted the children and young people so positively was refreshing and lovely to hear about. Andy has such a colourful background and I could tell that he lives and breathes music, it’s his true passion and that was evident for sure.

It was certainly touching to hear about how much of a difference music therapy has made and is making to the children and young people spending what I can only imagine be a challenging and unknown time in hospital. Music therapy brings joy to the children and young people and gives them a sense of control and ownership. I would urge you to read Andy’s interview, as he brings a sense of reality and joy in the work he does at the children’s cancer wards.

What is music therapy?

 

Before interviewing Andy, I didn’t know a great deal about what music therapy was all about, so I thought I best start the interview by asking him. He said:

“Music therapy is about taking all the great things that already exist in music and using them for the good of somebody else. I think music is therapy already. Music can do just about anything, it’s a creative pursuit, a science, a skill and a way of connecting with people, and especially if you’re feeling isolated, playing music with people can be very positive. It’s also a great way to be alone or with just one other person, so you can be with yourself in the way you want to be. You can share experiences and share your emotions.”

Being in a band for 10 years!

 

Andy is employed by Nordoff Robbins as a Music Therapist. He also undertook his training with them for two years prior. Your fundraising efforts has meant that our charity has been able to fund Andy to work at The Great North Children’s Hospital one day a week, bringing music therapy to the children and young people from an array of ages – from infants to teens.

I wanted to know more about Andy’s music background, he told me,

“I graduated at the age of 23 and I knew I wanted to become a Music Therapist. I was already a musician, and became a Music Tutor, teaching in further and higher education, before I ended up taking up about 10 years touring in bands, including an original band called Ulysses!

“We wrote our own music, toured in Spain and Italy and got our name in the international rock press. I was able to meet some childhood heroes such as Rick Wakeman at a radio show, as well as supporting, and getting to know bands like Reef, who were very big in the 90s, and a well-known band called Dodgy – they had the hit single ‘Good Enough’. I also played in lots of wedding and function bands in this time, and played in tribute bands too – my most notable being in a tribute to The Who.

“After my days in a band ended, I moved to Newcastle to settle with my wife and went back to my passion of music therapy.”

Working at the Children’s Hospital…

 

When I asked Andy to tell me more about the work he does with the children and young people being treated for cancer at The Great North Children’s Hospital, it was amazing to hear about the way that music therapy impacted them so greatly.

“I work on both wards 4 & 14 every Thursday. I start the day collecting and wiping down all the instruments that I take out, and have a handover with the play team, physios, occupational health and nurses. I will find out about how patients are doing that week, and look at whether a child or young person is feeling up for some music therapy or if they’re in need of something to keep them engaged. Many are at risk of social isolation and boredom. Some patients are waiting for a long time in waiting rooms and they aren’t allowed to eat before treatment, so some of them are frustrated and in need of sharing a little bit of joy.

“So I turn up with an open mind, I have no idea how the day may pan out and I can’t plan for the day’s outcomes. I’ll offer music to them and some may feel like they don’t want to be involved today, which is fine, but more often than not, they want to have a go. They may want to sing, create music and get involved in improvisation. I see everybody as a musician, and work with infants as young as 1. I zone into that person’s unique musical personality, and my job is to reflect their music and celebrate it and see what happens. I go with what they want to do and let the creativity flow in whichever direction it is going.

“I had one young person aged 13 who had some singing experience before, with an amazing singing voice. I said to her why don’t you try writing something, let’s make something up. She thought about it a little and she just started singing this song that came out of her. I was lucky enough to be there to support it.

“She began to sing a beautiful, introspective ballad about uncertainty, using the tide and sea as a metaphor, including lines like: “Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to, just follow the tide, where it’s pulling you”. She was using the xylophone more as a rhythmic instrument, and her plaintive but soaring vocal played off my guitar chords as I sang her lines back to her in melodic counterpoint, and her words and melody, her song, filled the ward.

“We attracted a lot of attention from passing staff, parents and patients, even gathering a small audience, and were around five minutes into the song before I guided her harmonically towards bringing the ballad into an uplifting chorus, and she sang “Carry on with the waves”, a line that she repeated through to the end. Her mum exclaimed “Are you just making it up? It’s so brilliant!

“Music creates an impact on the whole ward, as you can hear it wherever you are on the ward.”

The impact of music on children and young people

 

It was beautiful to hear about how much the children and young people appreciated and got involved with music. Andy told me,

“The music lets them occupy themselves with something creative. It helps them to improve and develop their skills. They are young people going through complex emotions – music can help them to go through their emotions, where words may just not be enough.

“Children may be wary or closed at first as they don’t know me, but once they give music a chance, they soon become relaxed and engaged. Some even say they didn’t know they would be good at playing a particular instrument, and that is when I know I’m doing my job!”

A young person that Andy provides music therapy to said:

“I’ve always loved singing and listening to music. I even took piano lessons, until I got diagnosed. But now thanks to Andy, my amazing Music Therapist, I can let all my emotions out through music and finally have something I truly enjoy and look forward to when I have to come into hospital. Thank you Andy and thank you to whoever is behind this too.”

What do you most love about working on the wards?

 

To this question Andy told me,

“I love learning from the children, and hearing their ideas. They are very creative, energetic, playful, and I can tell when we are really connecting. They know they are in charge and there is something absolutely electrical about seeing them recognise that the music is all about them. I love the fact they can express themselves and also how endlessly surprising doing all this work is.

“I use everything I have learnt about music in my life, my background, training and passion for music. It is all channelled into the job. The fact I can share this and see it reflected back to me, it’s amazing!”

Thank you…

 

Our charity would like to thank Andy and Nordoff Robbins for providing such musical inspiration to the children and young people at The Great North Children’s Hospital cancer wards. The fact that children and young people who may have been disengaged and not feeling good, have been able to flourish with creativity and really come out of their shell with music therapy, shows how impactful and worthwhile it is to have this available at the hospital.

We’d also like to thank you – our supporters. Through your donations and strong efforts in fundraising, we have been able to fund Andy’s role to impact children and young people positively on the cancer wards.

If you would like to support our charity efforts, you can get involved here

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