Playing for patients: Off the clock with Anne Simmonds

Anne Simmonds

Anne Simmonds, Lecturer,
Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing

Anne has been with the University of Toronto (U of T) since 2005.

“I started at the Faculty of Nursing in 1999 as a master’s student, then a PhD student, and have been teaching at the Faculty since 2005, focusing on ethics and women’s health.”

What do you do off the clock?

I get lots of personal enjoyment from music and look for any opportunity to play. I wanted to bring that passion to the clinical setting so I take my guitar and sing for patients every week at Mount Sinai Hospital, which runs a very vibrant music and arts program.

I visit the older patients on the Continuing Care floor, go into their rooms and ask if they’d like to hear a song or two. Often there’s a family member in the room and they get involved.

This opportunity to come in and share music with patients has become the highlight of my week.

How did you first become interested in performing music for patients?

Music is a universal language and provides such an incredible exchange and energy between people. It’s one of the reasons that drew me to performing.

My cousin is the head of volunteer services at Mount Sinai, and so when I returned to Toronto from Nova Scotia in 2012, I signed up to take part in the music program. Some days I perform solo, other times I join up with other volunteers and we go to the rooms together.

I’ve found that older patients tend to have a deep recognition of a tune and it triggers all kinds of experiences and memories. Some of the patients are virtually nonverbal but once the music begins, they start tapping or start trying to mouth the words to the song.

This kind of response is so important for their loved ones to witness and it’s a great feeling for me to connect with patients and bring music into their day.

Do you take requests in advance?

I tend to go into a room and usually wing it. I have suggestions that I can offer a patient but typically we’ll go back and forth in search of the right song. I’ve been singing ’60s folk songs forever and having that catalogue handy in my mind tends to help with song selection. Spanish songs are quite popular and songs like “Sentimental Journey” are a big hit with many of the older patients.

Do you perform at other clinical locations?

At the moment, Mount Sinai is the only location but I’ve also played along with nursing students at our annual Wellness Fair.

I’ve just joined the advisory council of the University’s Health, Arts, & Humanities Program, which provides opportunities for students and faculty from the health sciences to integrate arts into health-care education and practice. I’m looking forward to joining those who are offering workshops in poetry, visual arts, cinema and theatre to those in the U of T community.

What (or who) inspires your work?

My influences are primarily my family: my grandmother was a concert pianist and my mother has performed with her ukulele for years and sang constantly through our childhood.

I listen to and enjoy all kinds of music, but my real inspiration really comes from the people I sing with or sing to.

I also take inspiration from my children. Currently, my son is a professional musician and one of my daughters, who has just started in the nursing program at Bloomberg Nursing, also performs on the local music scene here in Toronto.