The ONJCWRC choir, 'Something to Sing About'

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What's singing got to do with it?

"Sharing experiences or expressing anxieties through creativity can help relieve stress associated with illness."

A small group of singers sit together quietly waiting in the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJCWRC) group therapy room. Adam, the choir master, bounds in energetically and encourages them to their feet. "Big breath in and release, instructs Adam. With their hands on their diaphragms, they complete their vocal exercises before breaking into a song - the well-known Beatle's hit, ‘Hey Jude'.

Throughout history, the arts have helped human cultures share their experiences, understand the world and make sense of their existence.

Similarly, in hospitals, the arts can be a powerful way for patients to connect with each other, process their experiences of illness and enhance their health and wellbeing.

Manager of Arts in Healthcare, Lama Majaj, says if patients are worried or feel stressed, an arts program can help them move into a different emotional space. "Sharing experiences or expressing anxieties through creativity can help relieve stress associated with illness."

There are a variety of arts therapies on offer in the ONJCWRC. Some patients make the most of the hospital arts and music therapy program, enjoying the work of artists brought into the hospital to perform; others share their stories with therapists and create pieces of art in one-on-one art therapy sessions. If they are staying in hospital, patients can hang the artwork in their rooms
to reflect upon. It can be a point of dialogue with staff.

"Patients' personalities shine through the artwork," says Ms Majaj. "Staff come to know the person rather than just knowing the treatment they are receiving; it is a more holistic approach."

This year, a choir called ‘Something to Sing About' was established at the ONJCWRC open to anyone touched by cancer. Patients join the choir from the wards, going downstairs to rehearse in the Wellness Centre.

"Nobody in the group knows how to sing but it's a cathartic release," says Ms Majaj. "My role is to make sure that everyone is emotionally okay."

Once a month, the choir sings on the wards and in Day Oncology. They are patients singing for patients. "That is what arts in healthcare has the power to do," says Ms Majaj. "It offers people the opportunity to connect, transcend and form meaning out of their experiences."

What's singing got to do with it? is the May feature story from Austin Health's 2015 Quality of Care Report.