UHG brings intimate vocal performances to patients’ bedsides

Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 are pleased to present Viriditas by Ceara Conway as part of The Deepest Shade of Green, an Arts and Health programme for Galway’s European Capital of Culture 2020.

Viriditas is an album composed by acclaimed Irish artist and singer Ceara Conway in response to an extended process of engagement at Galway University Hospitals. Available online at saoltaarts.com, Viriditas takes the listener on a journey through songs inspired by conversations with staff and patients, melding sound recordings of hospital equipment, plants, and the tools of sound healers. Last week, songs from the album were previewed as a series of intimate performances for patients and their families in the wards of Galway University Hospitals.

Ceara, accompanied by Anna Mullarkey, sang to patients in 8 units across University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital including Stroke, Rehabilitation, Critical Care, Haemodialysis, and Care for the Elderly. Singing to busy day rooms and individual bedsides, their performances introduced birdsong and the sound of bees to the healthcare setting and audiences were gifted a limited edition CD of Viriditas after each performance. During visiting hours at Hospital Ground one relative said, “Music is something familiar to Mum, something from home, and that is really important whilst she is in hospital. It can be such a long day here, initiatives like this are brilliant for lifting the spirits. It was wonderful to see her smiling”.

Reflecting on her experience of performing in the clinical setting, Ceara said, “I am always drawn to performing in specific sites and the experience of singing healing songs for patients, family and staff in the hospitals, for me, takes the intentionality of my work to a whole other level. It allows me to connect with people in a very real and intimate way. The practise of singing to sooth and heal is ancient, and whilst Viriditas is a contemporary work, it is rooted in tradition, and performing it in a hospital feels like it belongs in the space. The songs and voice in this space are offered up for the purposes of creating moments of joy, fun and poignancy and to bring patients and staff together in new ways, outside their normal daily routines and patterns.”
Julia Monard

In her research for Viriditas, Ceara travelled to Georgia in September 2018 to learn traditional healing songs which she then shared with staff at Galway University Hospitals in participative singing workshops. Further workshops are planned for staff at Portiuncula University Hospital and Roscommon University Hospital in March 2020. The artist also consulted patients and staff from diverse disciplines encompassing nurses, doctors, porters, engineers, choir members, and bereavement and pastoral support.

Margaret Flannery, Arts Director of Saolta Arts said, “Viriditas is an excellent example of the work we do towards enhancing the hospital experience for patients, staff and visitors and in bringing cultural experiences to people who otherwise aren’t able to access them through ill health. The project also illustrates our work in addressing the Staff Health and Wellbeing agenda whilst also supporting artists to make experimental works for new audiences.”

Named after the Latin term meaning greening power and life force, Viriditas opens with How are you?, amesmerizing embodiment of the voice of care. Guiding listeners through the Kartvelian, Irish, and English languages, the album explores practices of healing and wellbeing, interweaving European healing songs and rhythms with songs in Irish that celebrate the medicinal properties of plants and lament on the current threat to their extinction. Set against nature, Viriditas also considers the effects of hospital noise on healing and growth, incorporating samples of hospital tea trolleys, a Doppler fetal monitor, and hazard bins in the rhythmical White Noise. The artist’s playful arrangements continue with the cycle’s up-tempo finale An Damhan Alla agus an Mhíoltóg, where she blends the traditional Irish folk song with the tarantella style of Italian folk music historically used to heal the bite of a spider.

Viriditas is part of Saolta Arts’ wider programme The Deepest Shade of Green where nature and familiar landscapes of the West are brought into the wards, corridors, and waiting rooms of Saolta’s hospitals and used to imaginatively escape the clinical environment.

Speaking about the Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 programme, Galway 2020 Producer Kate Howard said, “Ireland is a leader in understanding the benefits of art in healthcare settings. The work of Saolta Arts and artists commissioned for The Deepest Shade of Green as part of the programme for Galway 2020 reflects this and the importance of connecting our hospitals and patients with the natural world outside, transforming experiences for those who need it the most.”
Images courtesy | © Julia Monard