Fabrice* loves to sing. “I've been making music since I was young – since I was born!” says the 18-year-old, who grew up in central Africa but moved to the UK with his family in 2014 and now lives in the North East of England.
Fabrice experienced some serious mental health problems which led to him spending several months in hospital last year. Making music with the Singing for Health project has given Fabrice some of his happiest memories from a difficult time.
Bringing music to the wards
“I enjoyed it in hospital, but I didn’t know why I was there,” says Fabrice. “I don’t remember a lot of things that happened before I went into hospital, about school and even some people.”
Fabrice first encountered Singing for Health when a music-making session took place on his ward. “I got involved because I liked the way that they were singing,” he says. “We had lots of activities in the hospital, and music was one of the things that I wanted to do.”
The project, run by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, worked with over 100 young people who were in hospital for a variety of reasons. Some, like Fabrice, were receiving inpatient treatment for mental or physical health issues, while sessions at one hospital took place on a learning disability ward.
Part of a family
The weekly Singing for Health sessions – where Fabrice sang in a group with between six and ten other young people – were a highlight of his time in hospital. “I was happy, I was even like wanting to do it every time [rather] than some other activities that we had,” he says. “We were like part of a family.”
Music therapist Jean, who worked with Fabrice throughout the project, adds: “When he was in hospital he sang all the time, you’d hear him every time you left the office! It was really nice.”
The project ended with a showcase event at the Sage Gateshead concert venue, where the group performed songs of their choice onstage in front of around 50 people, including staff and families.
“I chose ‘Stand by Me’ because I sang it in school,” recalls Fabrice. “[Afterwards] I felt relaxed, I felt ‘I’ve done something’, and I was happy to show my talents to people.”
Music, language and mood
Music has been important to Fabrice throughout his life – rehearsing with the local church choir as a young kid, singing along to French R&B at home, and even using song lyrics to help him learn English after his move to the UK.
“I didn’t know how to speak English at first,” he says. “I was trying to improve my language, so I decided to go in the school choir. I didn’t know the language but I was trying to sing along. It wasn’t easy but I had to!”
“When I’m singing I feel happy,” he adds. “Sometimes I feel sad when the song is [sad], but mostly I feel happier when I’m listening to music because if I was worried or something, I listen to music to make me feel better, to get my worries gone.”
Life after hospital
Happily, Fabrice is now out of hospital, living back at home with his mum, brother and sister, and attending school again. He's part of a drama group where he gets to do some singing, although he says: “Acting is not quite my type, I like singing the most!”
“I sing more at home, but I’d like to sing with someone who can show me more about improving my vocals. Because I feel like when I’m working by myself I’m not really doing anything. It helps more to sing with somebody else.”
Fabrice is weighing up his future career options, and says he'll definitely keep making music as a hobby at the very least.
“Music made me more sociable, made me find friends and helped me to know that I have a talent.”