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John Browne in the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care

As part of the 150th anniversary of the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care in 2009, John Browne, a renowned Irish composer, was appointed as the Faculty’s first ever composer in residence. 


JohnBrowne4John's brief at the  Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care was a challenging one and included exploring the nature of care in clinical environments through music. His role involved observing and working with students, practising nurses, academics and members of the King's community; experiencing life in the hospital and meeting patients; composing choral pieces for the the Faculty's 150th anniversary throughout 2010 and creating a songbook for nurses to use in children's wards.

The residency marked the anniversary celebrations and was also part of its unique and innovative Culture and Care programme, offered to both staff and students, which explores the role that the arts, and in particular music, can play in the professional development of nurses. The project was a 2 year residency jointly funded by The Performing Rights Society Foundation for New Music and Arts Council England.

JohnBrowne1On his residency, John said: ‘This is a very different and very exciting opportunity for me. I am being inspired by the people, the buildings and the rituals of the school and its partner hospitals, but most of all by the themes of nursing and care. On the one hand I’ll be observing and responding to nursing practice on a very intimate level, and that’s very moving, and at the same time I’ll be looking at "care" as one of the really big themes of our times, and of all times.’

Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, ‎Professor of Nursing Policy commented: ‘We were thrilled about John Browne’s appointment as the Faculty’s first ever composer in residence... The work John produced plays an important part in forging the link between clinical practice and learning as a performing art.’

As a renowned composer, John is no stranger to working outside the often rarefied worlds of opera and academia and has used new music to respond to contemporary issues before. In 2006 he visited Rwanda to create the music-theatre piece The Mother’s Ring with survivors of the genocide, and in 2007 he wrote an original score for Demon Juice, a hip-hop version of Don Giovanni which brought together urban dance artists and the Royal Opera House.

John's roving role involved observing and working with students, practicing nurses, academics and members of the King’s community, experiencing life in the hospital and meeting patients, composing choral pieces for a Florence Nightingale Memorial Service in Westminster Abbey, and creating a songbook for nurses to use in children’s wards. During the residency, John explored the nature of care in clinical environments through music and composed an entirely new work reflecting upon his experience called A Nightingale Sang that was performed at the Southbank Centre in May 2011.

Read John’s  blog for more information about his residency.

A Nightingale Sang

A Nightingale Sang was a community cantata first performed in 2011 written and composed by John during his residency. The cantata, which is a medium-length narrative piece of music for voices with instrumental accompaniment, reflected first-hand experiences of nursing and midwifery and focussed particularly on the nature of empathy on personal, collective and spiritual levels.

The orchestral piece was performed at the Southbank Centre by a 200 strong choir of nurses, midwives and healthcare students and professionals, specially assembled for this event. The choirs that performed were the Faculty’s  Nightingale choir and The Choir of King's College London who performed alongside other esteemed choirs of London: Mind and Soul, which is a choir of mental health patients from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the ANS Community Choir, the ANS Orchestra with members from King’s College London Symphony Orchestra, and a nurse’s gamelan group. The piece also incorporated dancers and soloists singing first-hand accounts of human suffering and healing.


A Nightingale Sang was part of the Chorus series taking place during the Festival of Britain at the Southbank Centre in 2011 and the full audio of the cantata is available here.

The event programme is available to view here.

JohnBrowne2The Oxford Textbook of Creative Arts, Health, and Wellbeing: International perspectives on practice, policy, and research published in 2015 includes a chapter by Ian Noonan, Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, and Professor Anne Marie Rafferty that draws on John's residency. Their entry is an evaluation of the Faculty's Culture and Care Programme and calls for the inclusion of creative arts in nursing and midwifery education. They used participant evaluations from John's project and the Nightingale Choir as evidence to support this.


About the artist

John Browne is an Irish composer living in London. He studied composition at University College Cork (with Gerald Barry) and at The Manhattan School of Music in New York with the assistance of a Fulbright Award. Operas for the Royal Opera House include: Demon Juice, a hip-hop opera in 2007; Babette’s Feast, a chamber opera in 2002 (revived there in 2004); Separation (The Story of Bullman and the Moonsisters), created with children to open the new Linbury Theatre in 1999. For English National Opera he composed Midnight’s Children in 1998 and a trilogy of operas The Early Earth Operas in 2004.

Commissions in Ireland include Four Tableaux for Cork International Choral Festival and the opera The Pied Piper for The Ark in Dublin. He was a founding member of Meridian Theatre Company in Cork composing music for more than a dozen shows and his music has been chosen to represent Ireland at the International Rostrum of Composers.

Other work includes visiting Rwanda in 2006–7 to create The Mother’s Ring a music-theatre piece with survivors of the genocide, creating choral arrangements for the band Elbow in 2008 and teaching the Write an opera course at Dartington Summer School. He has also led many education projects for the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Opera North, Welsh National Opera, the British Council and the Southbank Centre.

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