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Music for education & wellbeing podcast [35] TRANSCRIPT: Penny Osmond, workshop and choir leader

AH: Hello, it’s Anita here and welcome to the podcast. In this episode, I’m talking with Penny Osmond, who’s a workshop and choir leader based in London and specialising in music with under fives. More recently, she’s been working with mothers who have perinatal, mental health disorders. And she was one of the workshop leaders on the first randomised control research in this area by Rosie Perkins and Daisy Fancourt, backed by the Royal College of Music and Imperial College Centre for Performance Science. So after that long introduction, Penny, that I just stumbled over [laughs]. Welcome, and thank you very much for coming on the podcast. I’m really looking forward to hearing all about it.

PO: It’s an absolute pleasure, it’s become my favourite topic to discuss. So I’m really happy to be here.

AH: Oh lovely. So can I start by asking you how did you end up where you are today? And why is it so important to you personally?

PO: Absolutely. I’ve always been really interested in the power of the human voice in general. I’m a singer myself. And as a teenager, I was part of an improvisation and kind of theatre group. Even though I didn’t want to perform myself, the kind of nature of creating something through a community of voices and putting it together has always just really appealed to me as something that’s very good for your wellbeing in general. I always wanted to be a music worship leader. But the thing that really I loved most about my training in the early 2000s with Spitalfields Music, and they still offer that training scheme by the way, it’s wonderful, I’d really recommend it for anyone who’s looking into music workshop leading. My favourite project I did with them was with another workshop leader called Zoe Palmer, going into the Royal London Hospital and creating lullabies with mothers who’d either had traumatic or difficult births, or they were just recovering from their birth in hospital. And so we co-created, with them, lullabies by their bedside. And it was such an incredibly special project. And so fast forward a few years and I saw a job advert from the Royal College of Music Performance Science Centre, asking for somebody who really was passionate about the human voice, and who had some experience working with mums and babies. By that point, I’d done quite a lot of work with mums and babies, mums and toddlers. So I applied for it. I actually wrote an extremely passionate and long essay to apply for it. And imagine my surprise when they not only offered me the job, but the other workshop leader on the project was the very same Zoe Palmer. So we got to deliver it together which was fantastic. The project was called ‘Music and Motherhood’ and it was groundbreaking. Managed to, we’ll talk more in detail about this later I’m sure, but managed to prove that singing together in this way, providing this musical care, managed to alleviate the symptoms of severe postnatal depression quicker than caring as normal.

AH: Wow. That’s amazing. We hear those sorts of things so much from across the music,  kind of the wellbeing spectrum, don’t we? It’s really interesting to hear about postnatal depression. A lot of people have heard about that, but perhaps don’t know how big a problem it is, can you tell me a little bit more about that.

PO: By the time I delivered this project I had two young children myself. And I think it’s very familiar for most mums, but I think it’s up to about 90%, feel the baby blues when they first bring home this tiny baby who is an enormous change of life for the mum, and the dad too, but it’s a bigger change of pace for the mum, of course, because you’re suddenly at home. However, postnatal depression is a kind of more insidious and long term problem, which official statistics say affect about 15% of mothers. But the NHS conducted a survey in 2011, which shows that it’s probably more likely to be about 35% of mothers. But not everybody refers themselves to their GP, or asks for help. And it’s something that can affect your sense of wellbeing, give you a sense of long term depression, tiredness, it can have other physical symptoms as well. And it does get better over time. But it’s obviously an extremely hard time to be facing something which makes you more tired and more depressed and have less joy in your life when you have this new baby. So it’s a very difficult condition. Having it referred is obviously, you have to self-refer, and there’s an enormous waiting list for talking therapies and CBT for postnatal depression. The NHS is doing its absolute best, but it is difficult to, you know, overwhelm the numbers of people who are suffering with this. So we hope that this group singing might be a sort of alternative therapy. We’re calling it Musical Care at the moment, which I’m hoping will catch on [laughs].

AH: That’s really interesting. And it links to some of the work that Opus Music do in, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they work in a range of health settings, and actually try to support health practitioners to use music in care. And they call that approach Music Care. So yeah.

PO: That’s so interesting. We thought we’d find that, that’s brilliant [laughs].

AH: It’s great to hear those links. It’s always great to talk to people and make those links. Are there any particular groups of mums that postnatal depression affects more than others?

PO: Absolutely. So some of this is my opinion and some of this is from my widespread training and research on this subject, but it can cross-reference with a number of socio-economic factors. So if somebody is struggling with addiction or poverty or has difficult circumstances around their family set up, that can make you more vulnerable. Also, if somebody has had any trauma in the recent years, or have previous history of a mental health problem in their life, it can make them more vulnerable to postnatal depression. And I should say, I should have said in your previous question, Anita, that actually, this study Music and Motherhood did only look at postnatal depression. But postnatal depression is actually only one of a lot of perinatal and antenatal mental health disorders. So we’re not just talking about depression when we’re talking about perinatal mental health, but in this study, we did ask women to self-refer on the basis of postnatal depression. Sorry, to go back to what I was saying. Sometimes I do think women for whom it’s the biggest change can be also a bit vulnerable. We saw in the Music and Motherhood some women who self-referred as extremely depressed based on the Edinburgh Depression Scale, which is how we measured the women’s symptoms, were actually extremely high flying in their careers, and struggled with a change a complete change of role and identity, actually, to a degree of loss of identity. So while I wouldn’t say that in the statistics, they’re more vulnerable than anybody else. I certainly found from personal observations, and still am finding in the work now, that sometimes those women for whom it’s an enormous change, are the most susceptible.

AH: Ah, right. Okay, that’s interesting. Going back to the research, so sort of starting with that research programme, tell me a little bit about how it was set up, who was involved, the makeup of the group.

PO: So I think Dr. Perkins at the Centre for Performance Science felt that it was really important to have some science-friendly proof that community singing could actually benefit this postnatal depression, because it’s only when we have proof in the face of, in the shape of a randomised controlled trial, if you see what I mean, that we can start to write to the NHS, doctors in all sorts of walks of life and say, we have the proof from a randomised control trial that this works. And we’d like to be able to pilot it in other settings and see if that carries on being able to alleviate the symptoms. So I think that’s where the idea came from.

AH: Could you explain what a randomised control trial is for those who might not know? 

PO: So we had Dr. Perkins and Dr. Fancourt, managed to recruit three groups of women, essentially, and all of them were invited to take the Edinburgh Depression Scale. And we actually found these women by self-referral. So there was a lovely administrator for the department at the time who went round every possible place you could imagine in West London, where the project was based, that mums and babies might be. You could possibly name any event, any park and she was there handing out flyers for about six months or so, she managed to recruit hundreds and hundreds of women. And we needed the babies to be between naught and nine month for obvious reasons. Partly that’s when postnatal depression is at its most severe. But also once children have a wider age range, the focus needs to be really on the toddler a lot more than the baby. And we felt it was really important for the focus to be exactly between the mother and baby, if you see what I mean. I’m sure we’ll talk about that more in a minute. But once they were recruited, and they had scored highly enough on the Edinburgh Depression Scale, to be officially diagnosed as postnatal depression. But do you see what I mean, they were self-diagnosed, their GP wasn’t part of the trial, they didn’t refer, they weren’t referred from their GP. So once we had the depression scales, the women were randomised into three groups. So one group would care as normal. The second group would come to a singing group, once a week for 10 weeks, with me or Zoe. And I think there were about 15 women and babies in each group. And then this was the part that was hardest for me and Zoe, but also really enjoyable. The third group were randomised into creative play. And the reason Rosie and Daisy had this idea was because if you bring mothers who are struggling with postnatal depression and loneliness together in a group, obviously, that will have some effect on their wellbeing without any music involved. So if the mothers were brought together to socialise, to talk together, and to just generally be with other women who were in the same position, they needed a third group to be able to measure the effect of just the music. So it was quite tricky for Zoe and I, who are both musicians with quite a lot of it workshop leading experience, to be told that we had to also lead a workshop with no music in it at all, as the third control, it was quite a quite a headspace to get used to not singing when you would normally sing. 

AH: So what did you do?

PO: Well, we did lots of stories. And we did some sort of creative, messy play. And sometimes we made things for the women to take home that they made together. But what I found very, very interesting about that third group was I found it so much harder, as well, because my natural place is to sing, of course, but the women seem to find it so much harder as well. Because they had to make conversation all the time, while they were making their, whatever we were making, or playing the game. They were chatting over their babies’  heads and caring for their babies at the same time. And it felt like there wasn’t the calming influence that the singing together had. It felt like some of the women were still trying to really keep control of themselves and put forward a sort of version of themselves to each other a bit more. Whereas the singing women seem to completely relax.

AH: And so what was the kind of makeup of the groups in terms of I don’t know, social and demographic background?

PO: Well, it was very interesting because as I said, they were self-referred. But we also had some help from the children’s centres in the region, and the health centres in West London as well. So it was an extremely varied mix, as you would expect from inner West London. We had very, very young mothers, to much older mothers and a really big class mix as well. I think in one of my groups, I had women from 12 different countries, which I thought was absolutely fantastic. And so that actually really added to the repertoire of songs that we could have. Because they brought songs in their home language for everyone to learn, which is a tactic I’ve used ever since to make everybody feel comfortable and at home, and make their sort of home culture feel really validated in the group as well.

AH: So what actually happened in the music group? What did you do in the music group? And how long did it last for? How many sessions were there?

PO: Yes, so practically, there were 10 sessions, each an hour with a kind of soft start, and soft end, which got softer and softer as the weeks went on, as people became more comfortable with each other. There was lots of socialising, and people engage with each other’s babies so much, which I actually think is an incredibly important part of the work. I have to mention here the consultant psychiatrist from the North West London NHS Trust, who I’m now working directly with, she’s called Dr. Madeleine Mila. And she’s an absolute advocate for this type of work ever since she read the results of this study we’re discussing. And she said to me the other day that we use a technique called Mind Mindedness, which I hadn’t realised that we did. But it’s thinking of the baby as a real person, rather than a sort of distraction or a burden to weigh the mother down. Because women engaged with each other’s babies and their own baby while they’re singing, because their baby enjoys the music so much, they’re more minded to think of their baby as a real person. And I think that was really at the core of the singing that we do together. We try and validate the mother’s voice as the most important one to the baby. So rather than a sort of, choral show that we’re putting on, we’re never going towards a performance. A lot of the songs we do are very meditative, short, they loop and we sing them for a long time, probably adding some harmony. And it becomes a sort of meditative space that everyone can join in with, but that the babies are also really enjoying. Having said that, a meditative space of different paces. So some of the songs are really upbeat. It’s not like everything is very chill, and we’re trying to send the babies to sleep. And a lot of the songs are very upbeat, but we try and not make it about getting words right. We try and keep as many songs in different languages from all around the world. Try and highlight the mother’s nationalities as well. And also try and create our own songs with the mothers based on their collective experience. At the end of each session, we try and send the mums away, feeling refreshed. That was our main sort of aim. And watch the community developing in front of us really.

AH: So I’ve got so many questions. One of which is how did you pitch this opportunity to the mums in the beginning? Because, was it offered as being you might be able to be involved in music, you might be able to be involved in creative play? And do you think that it was mums that are predisposed to music that came along?

PO: Well, yes, actually, my dad is a scientist, and that’s exactly the flaw that he pointed out.

AH: Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to raise that [laughs].

PO: No, not at all. It is not a bugbear, it’s fine [laughs]. But obviously with people involved that have to voluntarily be part of the research, it’s very, very difficult to create a study that’s entirely double blind. Because people have to voluntarily attend, and I’m sure that a lot of your listeners will know if you are struggling with postnatal depression, getting out of the house itself is extremely difficult, let alone volunteer to be at the same place 10 weeks in a row at the same time. So volunteering for this was already a big step for a lot of the mums who took part. So what the department did was offer singing groups to anybody who took part in one of the other two strands, after the research was concluded, so that they got their kind of reward if you see what I mean. 

AH: I do, that’s brilliant. Yeah. I was thinking there’s, you know, it’d be pretty rotten if you thought you’d signed up for a singing opportunity and then you’re in the control group.

PO: Yes. So I think you might be right that people who are predisposed to music did sign up. There were a couple of people who were very strong and able musicians, but actually mixing them right up with everybody else just created this lovely community, because it wasn’t based on performance, it was based on enjoying something together. I always remember one of the mums was interviewed for the film that you can watch on YouTube, it’s called ‘Music and Motherhood from the Royal College of Music Performance Science Centre’. Such a mouthful that, but she was interviewed for the film, she was one of my singing mothers. And she said, ‘It’s just so lovely, for an hour a week to not have to think about what we’re doing, to just surrender myself to whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re singing, and we’re all doing it together. And I can join in in whatever way I want to. And I know that my baby’s going to enjoy the songs. And then I feel like we’re all in it together, and when I leave, I feel refreshed. It was lovely to hear that that was her perspective on it. The video actually ends with the consultant at the time for perinatal mental health saying, ‘I love this treatment, because there are no side effects’ [laughs]. It was a lovely, lovely quote.

AH: Yeah. So I suppose what everybody’s waiting for is to hear about what impact you saw and what conclusions the research came to.

PO: Yes. So I mean, the research is very interesting, because, of course, it’s not that easy to measure depression symptoms, just based on the Edinburgh Depression Scale. Of course, how you fill in that form which asks questions like, ‘Have you felt close to tears, you know, all of the time, some of the time, most of the time?’, there are many different options. And there are lots of questions. And how you fill in that questionnaire when you’re used to filling it in quite often as you would be if you’re in treatment for postnatal depression. It really depends on the day, the minute, the feeling. So in addition to the depression questionnaire results, they also held focus groups at the end of the sessions, at the end of the 10 weeks. And the scientists also came to watch, I think it was weeks one, six and 10 that they came to watch the sessions. And we also had the wonderful administrator from the department was in every session. And she noted down little personal observations about specific mums and babies, how much closer they were looking, how somebody joined in when they had been passively listening before, personal things like that. And she also noted down things that were said to her. People quite often reached out and gave her anecdotes of how they’d maybe gone home, taught their husband one of the songs so that they could sing it to their baby together, things like that. So while you don’t see those things in the research itself in the graphs, if you like, they are still really important. But what the graph showed was that for women with mild to moderate symptoms, at the beginning of the study, the difference between singing,  play, and caring is normal. There was a difference, singing symptoms were alleviated quicker, but it was quite negligible. Because obviously, postnatal depression symptoms do also alleviate themselves over time anyway, because your baby grows, you get used to it, you find your stride and absolutely crucially, you sleep more as your baby grows. Which as anyone who’s ever suffered from depression knows, getting more sleep will physically help your mental state. However, the massive contrast was for those with moderate to severe depression symptoms. The group who sang, their symptoms were alleviated almost double the rate of those either in the creative play or in the control group. So that was an enormous win for singing as treatment for moderate to severe, postnatal depression.

AH: That’s a really amazing headline stat you can use quite easily when you’re talking with medical professionals. So what’s developed from there in terms of either that research or your work in this area?

PO: Well, wonderfully, I’ve seen quite a lot of people quote it. I’m starting with the passive but I’ve seen quite a lot of people quote this research in their own mother and baby choirs. I think there’s one called Pram Chorus, which is totally wonderful. And they’ve quoted our research as a sort of headline stat for their own work and I think there’s many other mum and baby choirs. Please do let Anita know who they are if you are listening. And a lovely organisation called Breathe Arts and Health took on a similar sort of structure. And they’ve been working with mums in Southwark in South London ever since. Southwark and  Lambeth I think. And my wonderful colleague Rosie Aderdiran, leads a lot of those sessions. So they’ve kept the fire burning all this time. And they really took the structure that Zoe and I had worked on in Music and Motherhood, and they’ve translated it onto their long term project, which is called Melodies for Mums. And I think it works in a very similar way that they recruit women self-referred in the borough, and they meet at a children’s centre for 10 or 12 weeks, once a week, and sing in a similar way that we did in 2016. 

AH: Oh, sorry, Penny, I was just gonna ask, are they supported by NHS? Are they commissioned by NHS or …?

PO: Those are not commissioned by NHS. But the really exciting thing is Dr. Mila, who I mentioned earlier, has been an absolute champion of this work ever since she read the results of the trial. And she has been trying to make it happen in her NHS Trust in Northwest London ever since. And I’m sure there are wonderful advocates all over the country who are trying to make it happen. But with the help of Julian Knight at Creative Futures, Zoe and I have recently been working directly with the northwest London trust in Paddington, and we’ve been working with women with all variety of perinatal mental health disorders, directly from Dr. Mila at the NHS and her department. And we’ve been doing a pilot there for 10 weeks since February. And it’s been absolutely transformative and wonderful to be back, working in person, again, with these women who it’s made such an enormous difference to already. The feedback has been wonderful, and while we don’t have official results that we can publish, for all of us, whether patient or workshop leader or assistant, we’ve been assisted by a wonderful woman called Julie Isaac, who I think is the warmest, most lovely person I’ve ever met. And doctors and occupational therapists, everybody has been overwhelmingly positive about the experience. 

AH: Oh, so this is different, obviously, than the research because it’s actually based in a hospital, would that be right?

PO: We use a private venue, but it’s women who are known to the hospital and who’ve been referred from the perinatal mental health unit.

AH: Ah, right, so and the research that was done, the randomised control trial was different because it was sort of opt in, is that right?

PO: That’s exactly it, the women were self-referred. So some of them may not have even gone to the doctor because I probably should have said earlier, but that is one of the biggest problems with measuring postnatal depression stats and other perinatal mental health disorders is that a lot of women, particularly those from certain cultural backgrounds, find it really difficult to express how hard they’re finding life with a small baby. They find it very hard to go to their doctor and say I need help, because they feel like they should be able to cope. So many of those who have mild to moderate postnatal depression or other disorders, actually never go to the doctor and never get the help that they need. So that’s why the RCM decided to make the initial research project self-referral, and then medically measured by the scale, rather than approaching the NHS for specific referrals. But we now feel, well Dr. Mila feels that we’re now at the stage that we can offer it as an intervention in a whole menu of interventions that her wonderful department offer, and see how helpful it is to the women.

AH: Oh, that’s great to hear how it’s moved on since that original research and that original research has been, you know, helpful in people all over the UK sort of advocating for this type of work. And in terms of having an impact across the UK, I know that you’ve also run an online project, is that right, that might have been accessible to a wider range of women across the UK?

PO: Yes, exactly. So the Royal College of Music was obviously like all of us, vastly affected by the pandemic. But we feel that lockdown had an especially catastrophic effect on anybody who had a baby during that period. And I’m sure that rates of postnatal depression absolutely soared. But presumably a lot of it went undiagnosed because people weren’t visiting their doctors unless they absolutely had to. Another factor that really sort of affected people during the pandemic with babies was loneliness. It can be a very lonely time anyway. And the very stark fact is unless you’re exactly, I’m doing air quotes here, “the right age”, and you have friends who have babies exactly when you do, if you don’t know anyone else with a baby, who are you going to reach out to, to talk and say is this normal? Anything from, ‘Why do I feel like this’, to, ‘Why is her poo green?’ or whatever other question you have. So, Dr. Perkins decided to engage with this and do another randomised control trial based on working online. And this time I worked with the wonderful Rosie Aderdiran that I mentioned before, who works for Breathe among other things, she’s a wonderful freelancer. But we were understandably both absolutely terrified by the idea of leading music sessions online, because the music doesn’t think when you’re on Zoom, and it’s very difficult to get the feeling of singing together, those endorphins that come from breathing together, the sense of community that comes from making a sound that all blends in the middle and sounds beautiful together, it’s impossible to get that online. So we did find it quite a daunting prospect. But what Dr. Perkins was trying to measure with her colleagues was not just symptoms of postnatal depression this time, but also loneliness. And so Rosie, it’s very confusing, they’re both called Rosie, Rosie Aderdiran and I, the workshop leaders, we designed a project that was based on songwriting. Coming together to be creative, to write songs about our various experiences, and create a song from everybody. So people could participate in whatever degree they wanted, you know, creating little snatches of melody. We generally created the lyrics as a big sort of whiteboard together, a whiteboard of ideas, and then picking out what appealed to each of us and editing it. And so nobody felt a sense of ownership over the whole song, nobody could take over. Rosie and I very much just facilitated the group to write their songs. And that project was also self-referred, but it was done through Happity. It’s a sort of app where you can see what’s going on in your area for parents and young children. So it’s UK-wide, and she’s got an amazing following from it, and I think it’s an incredible organisation. So she managed to recruit the women for us for that project, and then they went through the same process as 2016, of filling in an Edinburgh Depression Scale, and then being randomised in the three groups. Except this time, there were two groups, Penny [laughs], because there wasn’t creative play this time. I randomised into two groups, care as normal, or come to the songwriting group. And this time, it was six weeks of sessions, an hour each, with their babies. And those who were in the control group were offered six weeks of songwriting after the research had concluded. 

AH: Ah right, and so how many women was that? 

PO: I think we did six groups of research. And there were, I think we put 12 in each group, because that was what would fit on a screen, very prosaic really, but that’s what would fit on a screen. And we noticed that the women who came when it was no longer being research, so the women who had already contributed to the research control groups, they seemed to be, interestingly, slightly less invested. I’m sure they still got a lot out of it, but they seemed to be slightly less invested than the women who we saw during the research period. And just anecdotally, we couldn’t quite work out why. But I do wonder if there’s a sort of, I’m doing this for the sisterhood attitude to being part of research in this area. And feeling like you’re doing something for all women who suffer with postnatal depression. It’s just a thought that I’ve had over the last few months.

AH: That’s a strange result, isn’t it? Because you’d have thought that it was the same kind of experience for people? I’m really interested to know, and I don’t know if you’ve done this yet,  but have you compared the results of the women songwriting online in this recent project with the results of the very first randomised control project? Because it’s really interesting that this more recent one, it’s bringing out their creativity, isn’t it I guess more, and they have more agency, and more ownership. So does that make a difference to your results?

PO: Well, we would love to have more randomised control trials based on purely the power of singing. We would love to be able to prove, and prove and prove again, because as music professionals we all know how good music is for your wellbeing. But it’s sort of finding the exact ways to prove it, isn’t it? I know that they, I’m not sure if they have directly compared the two. But I know that they’re very excited about the results of Songs from Home and keep an eye on the Royal College of Music website for when they do publish those results because their findings were really, really positive in comparison between the control group and the songwriting groups. And the individual feedback was really heartbreakingly wonderful as well [laughs].

AH: So what next in terms of this work for you, or nationally?

PO: Well for me and Zoe Palmer, we are carrying on working with the Northwest London Trust. We actually start again with a new group of women next week. So that’s the middle of May, and working with them for 10 weeks. And we just hope that we’re going to continue to take baby steps on this type of work, so that we manage to prove through a sort of process of attrition that this is doing such wonderful positive things for many, many women. I know that Dr. Mila is attending a conference on this subject with Dr. Perkins from the Royal College of Music at the end of May, and she’ll be sharing her thoughts on our recent in person pilot project. So I mean, my absolute dream, and I know that it’s Zoe’s dream as well would be for this to be picked up and widespread use of this as one of a range of interventions for perinatal mental health disorders would be our absolute dream. And I think by having advocates like Dr. Perkins, and Dr. Mila, showing that it really, really helps women is exactly the next sort of step that we need. So we’re just hoping to carry on really, carry on and get this funded as an official intervention for this sort of disorder.

AH: Fantastic. If people are interested in keeping up with the results of any new research and keeping up with your activities, for example, where’s the best place for them to go?

PO: There’s two different places. The thing about this work is that while we might be in common as people, me, Zoe, Rosie Aderdiran, we work for lots of different people, as musicians do, and one of the biggest hurdles has actually been translating how we work into how the NHS works. Because obviously, it’s such a different world. We work project to project and they work based on full-time positions and things like that. So if you would like to read the results of the randomised control trials by Dr. Perkins and her colleagues, that would be at the Royal College of Music Performance Science Centre, which is partnered with Imperial College. And then our recent project is with Creative Futures, who’s CEO is Julian Knight. And Zoe and I will be writing about that as it carries on, the project is called ‘Music at Heart’. And I hope that if you’re hearing this podcast, it might inspire you to try and do something similar in your area. We’re also hoping to train more musicians in this sort of work in how you might learn about reading the room, learning about following individual women and about the intricacies of perinatal mental health disorders and how community singing can help. So we’re hoping to do that in the next year. 

AH: Oh, that sounds fantastic. Finally, Penny, I wondered if you could sum up three of the most perhaps important things that you’ve learned from this research and your work in this area that might be helpful for other people working in this field or the wider field of music and social impact?

PO: Yes, totally. I hope they’re not too ephemeral. I’ve gone quite conceptual with the things I think are most important. Obviously, there’s lots of practical things that are really important as well [laughs]. But when doing this sort of work, I think the most important thing is to value the mother’s voice, both in a very literal sense, valuing the mother’s singing voice exactly as it is because it’s the most loved voice the baby can possibly hear. And encouraging the mother that speaking to and singing to her baby, is the best way to recapture her own identity and forge that bond with her baby. Secondly, the idea of caring for the mother and baby through this participatory singing. It really is a type of care for yourself and care for the baby to sing in a community of other women. Lastly, it’s exactly that, creating a community. Our recent group, two of the babies started to hold hands through a certain song. It was like they heard the song and they always reached for each other. And it made all the mothers laugh so much and think it was absolutely adorable. And through that sort of forged  connection that the babies made, and through singing through this connection, and the baby’s recognising songs, or even something as small as that, the women can forge this community based on familiarity and discovery and doing something new. And repeating it lots of times pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and sort of refinding where you’re comfortable. It creates this incredibly strong bond between these women for the time that they’re in the room. And I feel so lucky to have been part of it.

AH: Oh, it’s been so good to hear about all of this, and music links so deeply with all of the five ways to wellbeing, doesn’t it? And this project just shows that. It’s been great to hear from you, Penny. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast. 

PO: Thank you for asking me. Thanks, Anita. 

AH: And if you want to read more about the work that we’ve discussed, I’ll share plenty of links in the show notes on my website.

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