Singing soothes the soul in a busy Chiang Mai hospital

by Paul Surtees
chiang mai

As I first entered a large hospital complex in Chiang Mai, I was intrigued to hear live music, with melodic singing, coming from the large lobby area. It represents a lovely expression of kindness, from volunteers, towards the hospital patients and visitors. Hundreds of people were waiting or milling about in the lobby; many were new or existing patients awaiting tests or treatment, or being transferred between hospital departments; while many others were anxious family members visiting their sick relatives.

Visiting a family member or friend in hospital can be a worrying experience, especially if the patient being visited is seriously ill. And, of course, no matter what is wrong with them, or however good the medical care provided, few hospital patients enjoy the experience – which unfortunately is one of high anxiety, stress or pain for many of them.

Nakorn Hospital, the university teaching hospital of Chiang Mai University, these by Paul Surtees efforts are made by many kindhearted local people on a voluntary basis. Set up to one side of the main lobby is an area where Thai amateur musicians play their traditional instruments, or sometimes play the piano, to accompany local singers. Their music making can be heard in many parts of this large hospital complex, and is touching to observe.

These providers of music are off duty doctors and nurses, medical or nursing students, the family members of patients, or – most touching of all – former hospital patients, returning to give something back to the hospital that cured them. Some of these singers spend their lunch break there; some are regular performers; while there are generally different ensembles each day. Their choice of song ranges from Thai pop music, to folk songs, to classic musical numbers, sometimes including English language lyrics.

Every lunchtime these melodic sounds waft their way through the soaring and busy lobby waiting areas and can even be heard in the special area set aside for receiving injured or sick people by ambulance. Many just discharged patients also wait near there on crutches, in wheelchairs or on hospital trolleys, to be transported back home by their relatives or friends.

Arriving or departing patients, plus their visitors, often experience healthcare worries, despite this hospital providing some of the best healthcare in this lovely country of Thailand. Their anxious feelings can be soothed by listening to this delightful ‘live music show,’ which is put on – and, usually, to a high musical standard, I might add – by these kindly volunteers for exactly that purpose, every day.

I have been in hospitals in many other countries as a long term expatriate – as a patient, visitor or staff member – yet I have never before come across the like of this lovely musical therapy conducted here in Chiang Mai’s biggest hospital complex. Their efforts could usefully be emulated in other hospitals here in Thailand, and indeed around the world. That would bring the benefit of more relaxation, and less stress, to people passing through a hospital: an experience that is of itself potentially stressful to many.

The Chiang Mai Sriphat Hospital authorities are to be applauded for providing the facilities for these daily musical sessions. The many exemplary people who give so freely of their time, musical talent and kindness-of-heart are much to be thanked for their delightful musical contributions to lifting the mood of so many otherwise anxious patients and visitors in this hospital.

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