An ambassador of the Canberra Hospital Foundation (CHF) since 2020, Leo Sayer is always happy to lend his voice to a good cause and next month he’ll light up the stage for charity once more.
The 1970s pop icon will be the special guest at the foundation’s Golden Gala dinner on Friday 4 August, celebrating 50 years since the opening of Canberra Hospital.
A vocal advocate for public health services, Leo is a regular visitor to the hospital and often serenades staff and patients, which he says is just as uplifting for him as it is for his audience.
He says the power of music can offer a “distraction to people going through tough times” and it supports healthcare teams who work so hard caring for the community.
Leo is encouraging Canberrans to throw their support behind the CHF gala dinner in the QT Canberra Ballroom, with all funds raised supporting the Cancer Wellbeing Centre and research equipment for the new Cancer Research Hub.
“Since its inception Canberrans can be justifiably proud of what the foundation has achieved so far,” he said.
“The foundation adds many elements that support the care and comfort of patients to enhance healthcare services.
“It’s also about improving the patient and family experience at the hospital, providing things such as welcoming waiting rooms, care centres, advanced technology and comfy furnishings in the hospital’s common spaces.”
Leo will perform some of his favourite hits at the gala, alongside a 20-piece band spectacular, Canberra’s own Spectrum Big Band. Guests will also enjoy a sit-down two-course dinner, giveaways and charity auction.
Previous donations to the CHF have funded a range of programs at the hospital including the music therapy program at the Adult Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit (AMHRU) and the Therapeutic Harp Program run across Canberra Health Services by Alison Ware.
A certified clinical musician, registered counsellor and creative arts therapist with qualifications in mindfulness meditation, art therapy and spiritual care, Alison’s visits to the hospital support people experiencing physical, emotional and spiritual pain.
She says playing the harp is a complementary therapy that can bring comfort to patients, including sick children and their families, and those in palliative care.
“The days can be very long in hospital and, when I bring my harp in, the patients are very welcoming. It really adds something into their day,” she said.
“I might go into the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit], neonatal unit or birthing suite and play for the mums which is very relaxing. Postnatal, often the dads will bring the babies closer to have a look at the harp. It’s lovely.”
Alison chooses the music, and the size of the harp, specifically for the area she is working in and often improvises to suit individual patients’ needs.
“Sometimes patients are non verbal. For example, I went in to see a lady who wasn’t speaking and I started playing a very old Celtic tune and she looked up and said ‘my mother used to sing that’,” Alison said.
Music is a powerful tool that promotes wellbeing, deep rest relaxation and facilitates sleep, and can be uplifting and joyful.
For dementia patients, harp music can assist with mental clarity and stimulate memory and, for those nearing the end of their life, it offers comfort and allows family members to release their emotion.
“Having a live musician in the room can really soften the hospital experience and bring beauty into that space,” Alison said.
“The harp has a wide pitch range and a lovely warm sound, making it perfect for a healthcare instrument. I have a smaller harp that I rest on the bed and the patients can feel the vibrations as I play.
“My visits aren’t performance based, I provide a responsive music service and can cater for each patient’s needs on the day, whether that’s playing music to help them sleep or to help with pain management. If older patients want me to play music that brings back memories, I’ll do that – it’s purely whatever they need in that moment.”
Alison feels privileged to have been working at the hospital for more than a decade thanks to the generosity of the Canberra community.
“I would encourage people to continue to donate to the foundation because it really does make a difference to patients and their families,” she said.
“It really softens the hospital experience.”
The AMHRU program supports clients with a range of individual and group sessions and has been enhanced by community-funded specialised instruments and equipment.
The Canberra Hospital Foundation Choir also delights patients, visitors, volunteers and staff wherever and whenever it performs.
The gala dinner will celebrate 50 years since the opening of the then Woden Valley Hospital in 1973 with 36 beds and 175 staff members serving a population of about 172,000.
Now, Canberra Hospital and Canberra Health Services has about 650 beds, 8000 staff and provides care to a population of more than 650,000 people.
Tickets to the Golden Gala are on sale now.