Amongst the virtual sessions we offer to the children and young people we support are one-to-one music lessons, providing a wonderful opportunity for children at home or in hospital to connect and learn a new skill. We spoke to Andy, one of our music teachers, who has been working with Spread a Smile for the last three years providing piano and guitar lessons.
What is your musical background?
“I became involved in music at an early age as I grew up in a musical home – my Mum is a violin teacher. I studied guitar at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford and song writing at Berlkee School of Music in Boston. Upon returning to London, I got involved in various musical projects – playing for original bands, song writing and touring extensively around the UK, Europe and America. I play an array of instruments with my main instruments being piano, trombone and guitar.”
How did you first becomes involved with Spread a Smile?
“I had been teaching one of the Spread a Smile Trustees for a few years and when one of the patients who had their own keyboard in hospital asked if Spread a Smile offered piano lessons, they asked me if it would be something I’d be interested in doing.
“It was not something that Spread a Smile had offered before, but with the Country being in lockdown at the time through Covid restrictions, it seemed like a great opportunity. I therefore started providing lessons over Zoom and the response was amazing. It gave the patient something to do in their own time and the speed of learning and improvement was incredible. Spread a Smile soon discovered that there were other patients who also had pianos and guitars with them in hospital and some hospitals owned their own keyboards. So they decided to offer the lessons out to other patients.”
How do the music lessons work?
“All of my lessons are carried out virtually on Zoom because it’s a platform that works so well and it means we can reach more children. I use several cameras to capture different aspects of the lesson… my fingers on the keys of a keyboard for example, or the music sheet. I can drag music and chord shapes in and out of the screen to help teach.”
Tell us about a special moment working for Spread a Smile?
“One of my highlights was my first teaching lesson and seeing the surprise on the Mum’s faces when their child told them that they’d learnt how to play Beethoven!
“Also once when I was teaching a lesson on song writing and I said ‘One day I’ll be teaching people how to play your songs’ and they told me that they didn’t want me to teach their songs in case I took the credit for it. I found that very funny, but good music business.”
How do you think music positively impacts mental health?
“Music is almost like another language and something that we all feel within us. You play a song to a baby that can’t even speak and you’ll see them bobbing around to the beat of the music instinctively. It’s something that’s built inside us and something that we all respond to. So I guess with all the problems that we may face in the real world – be it our mental health or trying to find the money to pay our next electricity bill – music gives us something to take us away from it all.”
How does music help with positive connections?
“I’m an adult and I find hospitals scary places so I can’t image what it must be like for a child. If I’m able to take them away from it all for just a couple of minutes, then I feel that my time as a piano/guitar teacher has been worthwhile. I think that’s something each and every one of us at Spread a Smile try to do and are proud of.”
How do your music lessons make a difference to the children that Spread a Smile supports?
“Music is something that we practice, improve on and get better at. It’s amazing to see the improvement from lesson to lesson and the children notice it too. I think that kind of positivity can be good for anyone because it gives us something to reach towards and achieve.
“It’s been so nice working with Spread a Smile and to see how much the children enjoy their lessons. You notice a real change week to week in their playing and with so much of their time spent in hospital, it gives them something to concentrate on other than their treatment.”
Please make a donation to help ensure we can continue to provide our online music lessons for seriously ill children and young people. Thank you.