365 Days of Music @SingHealth

The show must go on... to bring cheer to the sick every day

Sing'theatre musicians performing for patients at National University Hospital in 2015. In the light of the pandemic, they have now taken their performances online, including weekly virtual shows at Singapore General Hospital for an average of 15 to
Sing'theatre musicians performing for patients at National University Hospital in 2015. In the light of the pandemic, they have now taken their performances online, including weekly virtual shows at Singapore General Hospital for an average of 15 to 20 patients.PHOTO: SING'THEATRE

Seven years ago, theatre-maker Nathalie Ribette was singing for a group of patients at Singapore General Hospital. She noticed an elderly woman who stayed throughout her entire 20-minute set.

Ms Ribette, the founding artistic and executive director of local theatre company Sing'theatre, was puzzled. Most patients typically did not stay very long as they had medical appointments to go to.

After the set, the old woman approached Ms Ribette and told her that the performance of French songs like La Vie En Rose brought back memories of her honeymoon in France with her late husband.

"She cried as she hugged me," recalled Ms Ribette, now 57.

"I cried too. Though we had nothing in common, music united us."

That was Sing'theatre's first event at the hospital.

Today, the company of eight people continues to bring music to the sick through community outreach performances at public hospitals and elsewhere.

One such initiative is 365 Days of Music @SingHealth, a collaboration between Sing'theatre and SingHealth, Singapore's largest group of healthcare institutions.

It aims to provide one hour of live music at one of SingHealth's institutions every day for a year.

The initiative began on Oct 7 last year and was meant to last a year, but the pandemic put a halt to it in late January this year, as Sing'theatre could no longer stage live performances in hospitals.

The company itself was struggling, as theatres went dark during the circuit breaker period.

With zero performances, it could not receive any donations from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's Cultural Matching Fund, a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for private cash donations to registered arts charities.

Said Ms Ribette: "The donations from the fund used to cover our business costs and it was a real problem for us during that period to do without it."

Despite this, Sing'theatre adapted. Since May, the company's musicians have been performing live concerts online.

They have since performed virtually for patients in hospitals, including weekly online shows at Singapore General Hospital for an average of 15 to 20 patients.

In July, they also brought digital live performances in Hindi and Tamil to migrant workers quarantined at the Singapore Expo.

Pivoting to digital concerts was not easy as they had to learn the technicalities of live-streaming.

But for Ms Ribette, it has been worth it.

"At Sing'theatre, we know that music brings so much joy and is important not just to the sick, but to their families too," she said.

"For a while, they are able to forget about the difficult circumstances they are in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2020, with the headline 'The show must go on... to bring cheer to the sick every day'. Print Edition | Subscribe