Artists & Our Arts for Health Programme
Our Arts for Health programme primarily takes place within our inpatient facilities across the Trust; St George’s Hospital, Stafford; The Redwoods Centre, Shrewsbury. Engagement activities can involve our healthcare service users of all ages, carers, families, visitors and healthcare staff.
- Arts for Health can include any artform such as visual art, photography, music, dance, drama, creative writing, reading for wellbeing, poetry.
- Arts for Health engage professional artists and musicians to deliver the programme often in collaboration with external arts organisations in order to maintain quality and excellence.
- Our programme and projects considers the wellbeing of the participants involved. Each participant’s contribution is highly valued and encouraged in a manner that is fair, equitable and inclusive.
Artist Interview - Sally Tonge
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I'm Sal Tonge, a lot of people also call me a musician and a storyteller, but I call myself a verbal artist. I work with words, whether they're sung or whether they're inferred. Sometimes I work with people who don't have words, they have sounds.
As a storyteller I could never imagine working with a guitar, because the guitar physically sat on your lap like a little wooden wall between you and the audience as ‘I can do this, you can't’, so I just told stories.
When I started to work with early years, I explored the idea of ‘what if people can't actually talk yet for a whole host of reasons?’, and then the guitar became another voice!
What work do you do for Arts for Health MPFT?
I’ve worked a long time at Redwoods, performing live. Their concerts are beautifully hosted, and immaculately accessible – it’s so lovely to fill a hospital with music!
I also go onto the wards to perform and engage with inpatients. The soundscape on the wards is often banging doors, lots of keys, beeps of machinery, doorbells and phones.
So I kind of just take the musical temperature of the space. And then. When it's time. You put out a single chord on a guitar. And it's so different. It's like the walls haven't heard this and people haven't heard this and it's like putting out a whole new language.
Please could you tell us a bit about your journey to working in Arts and Health?
I am a very practical worker. I've got a really strong work ethic and I'm a bit Darwinian in that I will evolve if I need to. I've always been doing the same stuff and I can evolve and become it.
Since I was 47 I trained to be a fitness instructor. I had to do quite a lot of training around, anatomy and endocrinology and aging, the muscles and all the rest of it. I had to do all that training and I'm really passionate about it.
This training has really deepened my understanding of the physicality of it all. When you're singing, you're breathing differently, so you're taking more oxygen into your bloodstream, and oxygenated blood is happy.
If music is a reason for somebody to look up, breathe deeply, take their elbows away from their body, then you've done some physical training, but you're also just going to sing a song!
What do you think Arts for Health means and how do people benefit from taking part in Arts for Health activities?
We have to be connected. Singing can connect you to somebody. You look across the room and you see somebody and they're singing and you exchange a smile.
You're not alone. So you're connected.
We all need to kind of connect, to look up and notice, have our emotions acknowledged, feel that we're in a relationship.
Sometimes I sit on a ward and I'm singing away and there might be 15 people enjoying my music. What medicine can you dispense on a ward and one dose does 15 people?
What work did you deliver for Arts for Health during the pandemic and what impacts do you feel it has had on the people and communities involved?
I struggled with zoom. I struggled with the flat screen world because so often when you're going into a session, I might look like I'm singing to you, but actually half an eyeball is across the room on the person that's sort of orbiting, looking at the window.
I learned a lot and I learned that people are really responsive, even if your music has to come on a screen, and it was impactful and I couldn't deny the impact.
During the pandemic I needed people, so I trained to be a vaccinator. People came through these vaccination pods and they sat in the chair for three minutes and they told you stories. And I suddenly realized that my vaccination pod was the smallest theatre in the world!
It was very healing, a very positive place to work. From that experience came the show ‘JABS’, which we're touring to Theatres across the Midlands.
Can you talk us though a typical day working for Arts for Health?
A typical day working for Arts for Health is to know that there's no typical day! You pack up your car in the morning and you pack up as versatile as you can. You bring as little as you can in terms of props and you bring as much as you can in your mind and your heart.
You know so many times you do a thing and there's somebody asleep in the corner and you think, oh, they slept through this whole thing and you play the last thing and your pack up your guitar, and you're leaving the ward, and then they say ‘thanks, I really enjoyed that!’
A big skill for any musician is really keep your repertoire broadened and really try and be able to play as many songs as you can on your instrument.
Be obvious, be humble and let your audience lead. And hear them. They're not necessarily there to hear you. All you can do is galvanize and encourage and give people permission to sing, to breathe, and to smile.
What is your favourite Arts for Health story?
I have this moment that happened in a care home. I went into this care home to do an afternoon slot. When I turned up in the room, everybody was fast asleep… fast asleep! And I thought, ‘how am I going to wake everybody up?’
As I'm setting up this gentleman says ‘I'm just going to test the fire alarms’. I thought, ‘great’ because it might wake everybody up. So, he went out the room and then presently there was the fire alarm… and everybody carried on sleeping!
So, now it was my slot to begin. I sat down and I thought ‘right here goes nothing!’ I strummed one chord on the guitar… and everybody just woke up. It was as if I'd switched the lights on. They woke up and they smiled and I went ‘hello, hello, hello’, and they were all really happy to see each other!
What I reckon had happened was that they lived in this sort of plastic machine, alarm world that they've become desensitized to. And then in comes this woman with a wooden guitar, and she strums a chord and it sort of resonated because it was real and everybody woke up!
What are your future plans for Arts for Health?
In the show ‘JABS’, there's a line that I sing ‘certainty was a luxury, we were living day by day, and any plans we ever made, the virus swept away.’ You just have to keep on going.
It's just been my 54th birthday on St David’s day. So I did a bit of Googling about Saint David and I checked out his story, and one of the things he says is “do the small things”
I think my plans are just to follow in the words of Saint David and just keep on doing the small things… because if you do lots of small things, they end up being a big thing.
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