New choral work & exhibition to mark WHAT 25th Anniversary

Hospital Voices: New choral work created at UHW to launch 25th Anniversary of Waterford Healing Arts Trust on 6 December

Created by composer Eric Sweeney and poet Edward Denniston during their time as Artists-in-Residence at University Hospital Waterford (UHW)/Waterford Healing Arts Trust this year, Hospital Voices will be performed for the first time on Thursday 6 December at the hospital chapel.  Created to mark the 25th anniversary of Waterford Healing Arts Trust (WHAT), this new choral work has been developed in collaboration with patients and staff at UHW, and will be performed by Madrigallery Chamber Choir, under the direction of Dr Kevin O’Carroll.  A special exhibition, A Celebration of Waterford Healing Arts Trust in 25 Objects, will also be unveiled the same evening.  Further details from or (051) 842664.

Wishing Balloons by Brigid Teehan, part of the WHAT 25th Anniversary exhibition
Wishing Balloons by Brigid Teehan, part of the WHAT 25th Anniversary exhibition

Hospital Voices came about through the WHAT Artist-in-Residence scheme.  Funded by the Arts Council, this programme aims to engage patients in contemporary arts practice and to provide an opportunity for artists to develop their professional practice within an acute hospital context.  This is the first time for WHAT to bring together two art forms under its Artist-in-Residence programme and is also the first time for the hospital to have a Composer-in-Residence.  For this project, Eric Sweeney and Edward Denniston invited patients and staff at UHW to share their memories of music and/or poetry through conversation and song.  In response to these, Edward wrote a series of poems which Eric then set to music.  The result is a rich, layered choral work, reflecting the contributions of the participants, as well as the artists’ own impressions and responses to the hospital setting.

Reflecting on the project, Eric Sweeney said “The rich store of memory from a variety of patients we interviewed inspired a creative response which included an exploration of such concepts as hospital/hospice, cure/care as well as the vital role of ‘those who reach out a hand’ and ‘those who console and comfort with a word or song’.  It was both inspiring and humbling to work with all those who offered healing, hope and a daily celebration of life.  Poet Edward Denniston added “To have been afforded the chance to engage with hospital staff and patients was a privilege.  Without doubt, I’m more fully awake to the possibilities offered by arts practice in a place of care and healing – the hospital”.

A Celebration of Waterford Healing Arts Trust in 25 Objects, which will also be unveiled on 6 December, is a special exhibition reflecting the evolution of WHAT over the last 25 years and features a carefully curated collection, including paintings, sound recordings and sculptures.  Claire Meaney explains “We’re presenting an exhibition of 25 objects to tell the story of Waterford Healing Arts Trust, what we do and why.  We wanted to represent the landmark moments in the organisation’s development and the artworks produced through our art programmes, artist residencies, public art commissions, exhibitions and music programmes, as well as our national arts and health development work.  There are literally hundreds of objects we could have included, so we have had to make some very careful choices.  We hope everyone who sees the exhibition will find it as fascinating as we have!  We are deeply grateful to our funders the HSE, the Arts Council, the Department of Social Protection, Waterford City and County Council, the National Lottery, The Ireland Funds and Punchestown Kidney Research Fund for their continued support”.Waterford Healing Arts Trust – Background

Established in 1993, WHAT is a pioneer in the arts and health world, having set up when the concept of arts in healthcare settings was in its infancy in Ireland and internationally.  Originally the brainchild of a GP practising in Waterford, Dr Abdul Bulbulia, who had a vision for how artworks in the clinical setting could enhance patient wellbeing, WHAT has built up a strong track record over the last 25 years to become the national lead on arts and health development in Ireland.  From the early days of a visionary committee seeking to enhance the endless corridors of the then newly-built Waterford Regional Hospital, to the present organisation with its myriad of artists, artforms, artworks and participatory arts programmes in UHW and other healthcare settings, the philosophy of the organisation remains the same: the arts have a positive life enhancing role.  For patients, family members and staff, engaging with the arts stimulates a person’s sense of identity, creativity and possibility.  While the organisation’s work is not “therapy”, it is inherently therapeutic and uplifting.

Composer Eric Sweeney, a Dubliner by birth, has lived in Waterford since 1981.  Head of Music at Waterford Institute of Technology until he retired in 2010, Eric previously lectured in music at the Dublin College of Music (now Dublin Institute of Technology) and at Trinity College, and was Choral Director at RTÉ from 1978-1981. A frequent visitor to North America, he has been Composer-in-Residence at the Newport Festival Rhode Island, Memorial University, Newfoundland, the University of Illinois, Indiana State University and the University of Portland, Oregon, among others.  In October 2018, he launched his latest CD The Bright Seraphim.  He is a member of Aosdána, Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of creative artists.

Poet Edward Denniston has lived in Waterford since 1980.  He retired from teaching English and Drama in 2014. His publications include The Point of Singing (Abbey Press, 1999); Interacting – 60 Drama Scripts (Russell House UK, 2007); Eskimo Advice – an ebook of poems (Rectory & Hayrake Press, 2007);  The Scale of Things (Salmon Poetry, 2013) and For Crying Out Loud (Salmon Poetry, 2017).  He has published in various journals and some of his poems have been translated into French.  His collaboration with photographer Abigail Denniston Word To Image was published in 2014.  Edward is currently editing an anthology of prose and poetry for teachers who write, a project initiated and facilitated by Waterford Teachers’ Centre.

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WHAT also manages the national Arts and Health website