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How Music Can Help To Heal The Sick

Tragedy became the catalyst for Sing’theatre’s musical outreach programmes.

If you are visiting the paediatric wards of the National University Hospital (NUH), don’t be surprised if you bump into a superhero, princess, fairy or pirate.

These entertainers are there as part of Sing Me A Story @ NUH, the latest initiative by local theatre production company Sing’theatre, inspired by 'clown doctors' who bring cheer to young patients.

Every week until the end of the year, they will perform short scenes and songs in the signature musical theatre style of Sing’theatre, transforming each ward into a fairy tale land.

“Music is a very emotional form of expression and it can cross all language and cultural barriers,” says Nathalie Ribette, the founder and artistic director of Sing’theatre.

A firm believer in the healing power of music, she has organised musical outreach programmes in Singapore hospitals since 2013.

As part of Sing’theatre’s 10th anniversary celebrations, Sing Me A Story @ NUH has received encouraging feedback since its inception in April. “We visited one patient who was being treated in the intensive care unit. Her parents told us that she liked dancing.

“The superhero began to dance and the girl started to wriggle and dance in her bed and had a little laugh. This was such a special moment as she found the energy to join in and have some fun with the characters,” says Ribette.

Families and hospital staff also appreciate the entertaining performances. “We always put a smile on their faces,” she adds.

Ribette is certain that music can help people in unique ways. “For young children, a calming lullaby can soothe and comfort them, helping them to feel safe. For older children, singing a song from their favourite movie or artist can create an instant connection between the performer and patient and help them connect and communicate with new people.”

All the performers are professional actors, each of them devising their own unique character with a strong emphasis on interacting with the children. The bedside performances also allow patients a moment of escape from their illness and the clinical hospital environment.

The French native made the leap from healthcare to community theatre when she arrived in Singapore 20 years ago. After attending an audition by chance and being cast in the rock musical “Starmania” at the Alliance Française, she fell in love with the performing arts.

She went on to establish Sing’theatre in 2006 and the theatre production company has since staged numerous musical revues with a French twist to critical acclaim. Its philosophy is “performing for a better society” with a strong emphasis on bringing music and theatre to those who have limited access to it.

When Ribette’s best Singaporean friend, actress Emma Yong, passed away in 2012, she decided to create a meaningful tribute in Yong’s memory. “After her departure, I felt an urgent need to give a sense to this tragedy,” she explains.

The success of the first event, MusicFest@SGH in 2013, compelled Ribette to continue to “bring music to sick people” through community outreach programs. There is even scientific evidence of the therapeutic benefits of music, which have been increasingly acknowledged and employed to improve wellness in hospitals.

In collaboration with singers and musicians nationwide, Sing’theatre has staged regular live music performances at SGH (Singapore General Hospital), NUH and Tan Tock Seng Hospital over the past four years.

Remarkably, Ribette’s grief and loss has transformed into an altruistic gift, creating an uplifting moment in the lives of those who need it most.

Most of all, she is living proof that helping others can actually help yourself, “This is what makes me happy, giving to others.”