Hush Little Baby: The Healing Power Of Music

Monday, 31 Aug 2015

Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the soothing power of music, with slower tempos and repeated rhythms being particularly valuable in reducing stress levels, however few researchers have decided to start their own record label – until now.

Since 2007, Dr Catherine Crock’s Hush Music Foundation has been recording and commissioning soothing music designed to make hospital visits less stressful for children and families. Fourteen albums have been released by Hush to date, each featuring a set of tracks that have been curated - and in some cases composed - to encourage calmness and relaxation. 

As a parent, Crock was all too aware that hospitals could be frightening places for children to visit – especially if they had to undergo surgical procedures.

“I was particularly worried about the environment in health care; it’s quite a harsh environment, it’s quite challenging – the noises and the spaces and the light and the things that are going on in the background actually raise people’s anxiety levels,” Crock said.

“So it seemed really logical to me to bring music into the healthcare area, and use it to help get people into a calm place.”

Jazz inspires a new direction

The first two Hush collections featured original recordings of classical music played by leading Australian musicians. Then, in 2002, Crock met jazz pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky, and their conversations inspired a new direction for the Hush Music Foundation.

“Paul is an extraordinary jazz musician and composer [and] he had experience in hospitals himself; he understood the environment, and he knew where you’d have to sit your music in the soundscape so that it would actually help people rather than making it more chaotic,” said Crock. 

“So Paul composed our third Hush CD and that really took us in a different direction. And the idea of having purpose-built or custom-composed music has really been the way we’ve gone since then.”

Composers who are commissioned by the Hush Music Foundation face an unusual creative challenge: penning a work that is soothing rather than stimulating. As Crock explained, ‘This is not music for entertainment – they have really got to be careful and listen to the Hush brief and understand what we need. It’s different to music you’ll just play in a concert hall or you’ll play on a normal CD, because this has a therapeutic purpose when it’s being used.’

Winning an Art Music Award

The value of the Hush Music Foundation’s recordings was recognised last year with an APRA AMCOS Art Music Award, with Crock receiving the Award for excellence by an individual.

"The award has given us, myself and the volunteers and the team, confidence to know that what we’re doing is having a benefit to the music community as well as the healthcare and medical community … I think it will make our approach to the next generation of musicians even easier.”

But Dr Crock is not one to rest on her laurels. 

“In 2013 we brought out a CD with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra that featured 12 of Australia’s foremost composers … That’s been one of our most successful projects, because those composers all interpreted the brief slightly differently but it melded together in this extraordinary album. And the London Symphony is going to be playing one of those pieces in November,” she said. 

As well as giving British audiences the opportunity to hear Elena Kats-Chernin’s ‘The Dance of the Paper Umbrellas’, Crock is about to oversee the publication of The Hush Treasure Book, featuring work by some of Australia’s best children’s authors and illustrators, and containing a bonus CD. 

“It’s come from the same sort of concept as the music. We’re looking for artistic things that will help people in really difficult, stressful hospital situations – to take them to another place, maybe a magical place.”

From Australia to the world

Crock is also negotiating with the organisers of the World Anaesthetic Conference, to be held in Hong Kong in 2017. “What we’re hoping to do is take some of the Hush musicians to play live at that conference. It’s a work in progress, not quite locked in yet, but I think it’s still a good one to talk about,” she said.

Conferences are a valuable marketing tool for the Hush Music Foundation, Crock continued. 

“We’ve taken some of the Hush musicians to a couple of conferences … and that has taken the music to an international audience, because we’ll have hundreds of overseas delegates who come from hospitals around the world; we give them a little talk about Hush at the start so they know what the context is, and then they hear the music, and without a doubt they’ve all been blown away by the quality of what they’ve heard. 

“And that’s enabled us to sell a lot of CDs,” she laughed.

Learn more about the Hush Music Foundation here. 

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