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7 February 2014

Hush - 12 composers write for children at hospitals

Hush - 12 composers write for children at hospitals

The thirteenth volume in the Hush Collection, titled Hush: The Magic Island, features thirteen new orchestral works by twelve prominent Australian composers: Paul Stanhope, Elena Kats-Chernin, Matthew Hindson, Nigel Westlake, Paul Grabowsky, Ross Edwards, Peter Sculthorpe, Maria Grenfell, Brenton Broadstock, Graeme Koehne, Stuart Greenbaum and Iain Grandage. The composers were given a precise brief, which included visiting the hospitals to meet the young patients, their families and caregivers prior to setting pencil to manuscript, and the music was then recorded by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) under conductor Benjamin Northey. Composer Maria Grenfell writes about her contribution.

The power of music to affect the emotions and promote healing and wellbeing has been acknowledged for centuries and yet few professional composers have written music specifically for use in a hospital setting. The Hush Collection is the product of a unique and ambitious project initiated by Dr Catherine Crock, a physician from the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, to create a series of recordings of calming music that can be used to comfort and reduce anxiety in children, parents and staff in hospital operating theatres, treatment rooms, waiting areas and beyond.

In March 2012 I was asked to consider writing a piece for the 13th Hush CD, which was going to be their largest undertaking yet. The brief for composers was extremely specific. Pieces were to be either 3-5 or 5-7 minutes in length, not too fast or too slow, no minor keys, not melancholy or sentimental, and preferably with some kind of theme or link with the environment. The other important caveat was that the composers had to visit the Royal Melbourne Children's Hospital to see Dr Crock and her team treating the children in her operating theatre.

This was a rather challenging experience, but incredibly uplifting at the same time, to see her amazing medical team at work making the whole hospital experience as stress-free as possible for the families. On my visit I spoke with one of the Hush board members who said that the composers' visit to the hospital directly affected the music they subsequently wrote. Armed with the requisite information and hospital experience, I completed my piece fairly quickly.

My piece Rock Hopping is for standard TSO instrumentation, minus the tuba. The title refers to something that my children love to do when they go down to the beach, and I wanted to inspire positive thoughts about an activity that healthy happy children could do. I found it crucial, in terms of fulfilling the requirements of the brief, to ensure that structurally the piece made musical sense from start to finish. In formal terms, the piece is shaped like a popular song, which suits its length and the nature of the piece. (I was fascinated to learn, later, that Stuart Greenbaum's piece City Lights, A Mile Up was based on the structure of the Beatles song Hey Jude with its extended ending.)

The recording sessions for four of the first-completed pieces were held in September 2012 in Hobart, with Benjamin Northey conducting the TSO. Each piece was allocated one orchestral call (2 ½ hours) for rehearsing and recording.

The TSO is very experienced in the studio and my piece was 'in the can' with one hour to spare. I had more than a year to wait before I could hear the other pieces when the CD was launched in December 2013, and was overwhelmed by the quality of the music and the contrasts between each piece - particularly since all the composers had been given the same brief - and the heart-felt enthusiasm for the project. It has been a privilege to be part of Hush.

The CD Hush: The Magic Island is available from ABC shops, Readings and Dymocks, all children's hospitals and online at the Hush website as well as iTunes. The proceeds from the sale of the CDs contribute much-needed funds to improve healthcare in children's hospitals throughout Australia. And listeners beyond the hospital setting stand to benefit from gaining access to what is surely some of the most extraordinarily beautiful and uplifting music created by Australian composers and an Australian orchestra to date.

An earlier volume (no. 12) in the Hush series features music by composer & pianist Mark Isaacs to Kenneth Grahame's children's classic Wind in the Willows.

Further links

Maria Grenfell - AMC profile
Hush Music Foundation
Hush, vol. 13: The Magic Island (Hush website) - see also CD and work details on AMC Online
Hush, vol 12: Wind in the Willows - music by Mark Isaacs (Hush website)

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