The aim of the session was for the group to write a song together.
“It was stunning to be involved in the session and feel the emotions as people got more involved – we had laughter and tears,” explained session chair Julia Delaney, head of finance and support services at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.
Bob began the session with some deep-breathing exercises and then encouraged people to talk in small groups about a feeling or memory, using postcards of book covers as inspiration.
From this, key words and phrases emerged and Bob, with his guitar, lead the whole group in creating a song from these.
Colin Burgess, chief executive of St Peter & St James Hospice & Continuing Care Centre, describes the session:
“My singing is usually reserved for the car; for those times when I’m travelling alone with no-one to hear me. At home I might occasionally break into song, but my family’s response will normally curtail those performances well before the interval.
“However, Bob adopted a gentle approach with all of us, encouraging us to take risks while regularly seeking our permission to lead us a step further into somewhat unfamiliar territory.
“So it was that I found myself standing next to a colleague from my hospice, in company with around thirty strangers, taking a deep breath in before letting it out in a musical sort of manner. And before long I found myself singing – maybe not particularly tunefully but Bob was keen to reassure us that ‘you all have pitch’; a reassurance which was perhaps particularly helpful for me and the one other male participant in what was an almost exclusively female voice choir!
“And so we commenced an exploratory journey, which began with the coming together of a relatively disparate group of people, and ended with us having shared the experience of working together to co-create a song which had both personal and collective meaning.
“Our song may not ever achieve a place in the charts, but I believe it did, in some unfathomable way, have a real ‘X-factor’; helping many of us to understand a little more about how our personal responses to death and loss can, in Bob’s words, ‘inform and influence the quality of the care that we aspire to deliver’.
“This was achieved with the gentle guidance of a skilled facilitator who was able to demonstrate the transformational power of music and song.”
Scepticism and surprise
Suzanne Stevenson, head of media and PR at Hospice UK, approached the session with a fair degree of scepticism:
“What was the value of a song-writing workshop at a conference about hospice care?! What would I really learn? This seemed worlds away from my day job pitching for media coverage and dealing with enquiries from journalists.”
But by the end of the session she was feeling energized and inspired:
“There was a palpable sense of community and collaboration in the room as we all stood together, singing (mostly in harmony!) and chipping in with suggestions about changes to lyrics and rhythm, which ended with a real sense of accomplishment at what we had all worked together to achieve. “
Reflecting on why it worked so well, Suzanne says: “Looking back, I realise how important all the different steps were in leading up to the creation of our song. They broke down any barriers and awkwardness, encouraged us to think differently and created a strong sense of togetherness very effectively in a short space of time.
“Bob’s style of communication was also central to the workshop’s success. He has a gentle and empathetic manner, is a genuine listener and also has an extraordinary gift for putting people at their ease. This all contributed to create an atmosphere that was relaxed, collaborative, lots of fun! – and also fruitful.”
Reflecting on what he took away from the session, Colin commented: “Aside from learning that my voice, particularly when raised in concert with others, does have ‘pitch’ (even if not ‘tune’), my lasting memory will be of the way in which being guided in the use of simple words and music enabled our group to begin to develop a profound collective response; a musical expression of our joint creativity.
“What started as a journey outside my comfort zone ended as a step towards a deeper understanding of the positive power of music, words and the arts.”
Suzanne said: “I’d be interested to see whether we could capture some of the songwriting workshop’s creative and collaborative elements and use them in Hospice UK’s cross-organisational projects.
“I think the approach used in the workshop could be adapted to create some new and stimulating ways of working together and would produce some interesting results.”
Julia added: “The session gave ideas for people to take back to their hospices but for me it was the power of the therapy that shone through. I think many of us shared things we had not expected to do at a conference.
“Thank you to Bob – this session will stay with me for a long time.”