“Music-making at The Royal Marsden brought back my passion for singing”

Young cancer patients, and those who have completed their treatment, are benefiting from the Vocal Beats music project, supported by funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Vocal Beats, which launched in 2019, offers young patients the chance to participate in music-making during their hospital stay. It is part of the comprehensive arts programme available at The Royal Marsden, aimed at enhancing patient health and wellbeing. The offering has now expanded to include the Vocal Beats Academy, giving young people the opportunity to continue developing their music after they have completed their cancer treatment, as an outpatient.  

A young person performing into a microphone with a drum kit and another person singing behind them
Vocal Beats performers

Music-making with Grammy-nominated producers

Those in the Academy spent time writing, rehearsing and recording their music at Roundhouse Recording Studios, working with Grammy-nominated producers, world-renowned composers and professional musicians. They then performed at the Camden Roundhouse in November 2023 for a second year running, and have released an EP of their work.  

“Following the introduction of Vocal Beats, it became clear that young people who had taken part wanted to continue developing their music after their treatment was completed – so I am delighted that the Vocal Beats Academy gives them this additional opportunity. The showcase was a truly uplifting and inspiring evening of live music, spoken word and music production, demonstrating a huge amount of hard work and creativity.”  says Arts Officer Ben Hartley, whose role is funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

A group of young performers smiling and clapping on a stage in front of a crowd
Vocal Beats performers at the Roundhouse

Marie’s experience with Vocal Beats at The Royal Marsden 

Marie, 23, was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma when she was 16 years old and was successfully treated at The Royal Marsden. However, a month after her five-year remission milestone, she relapsed and was put back under the care of the hospital. During this time Marie – who has a passion for singing, dancing and performing arts – met the Vocal Beats team.  

“I didn’t do much singing with Vocal Beats at the start, it was just nice to chat to them all. I knew the Vocal Beats musicians would be in every Thursday, and I always looked forward to seeing them and to our chats."  

“At this time, I was 21 years old. I was really conscious of how I sounded due to some surgery I’d had. The Vocal Beats musicians finally got me to sing a little bit, which I hadn’t done in almost a year. I was terrified, as I thought I sounded different. I had no confidence. Your voice is very much like a muscle, if you don’t stretch it or warm it up for a very long time – it’s very rusty."

“The Vocal Beats team said they were organising a performance at The Roundhouse in Camden for a group of young people from The Royal Marsden to be on stage and sing. I was very hesitant at first – I wasn’t sure if it would be too much for me." 

“I’d had a tough consultation at the hospital about how things would take a while to heal, and I’d likely still have a lot of pain, so I wasn’t in the best place – but then I bumped into Stac Dowdeswell (from the Vocal Beats team). She said she really wanted me to be a part of the group and the performance at the Roundhouse. So, I went along and we did some rehearsals. I met other patients – some of whom had travelled from quite far away to be there." 

A young person dressed formally on a stage smiling and singing into a microphone
Royal Marsden patient Marie at the Roundhouse

“Vocal Beats has been amazing, as it gave me my confidence back and put me in a position where I had to engage and interact with other people again. We did the rehearsals and I agreed to singing a few songs for the performance!"  

“The night of the performance, the audience was made up of a lot of our friends and family. There were also lots of nurses from the hospital that came, which was so nice."

“Feeling like myself again” 

“Vocal Beats has made such a huge difference to me. I think as a patient, you’re so used to your support network being made up of doctors and nurses and the questions you’re asked from them are often quite technical about symptoms and how you’re feeling – it's all medical-based."

“Having Stac and the other Vocal Beats musicians to talk to and have a laugh with made such a difference to my hospital experience. To know that they were there to support you was amazing. You could try different instruments with them, have a sing song and you felt heard by them, you felt listened to."

“I finished my last round of chemotherapy in August 2022 and I now come back to The Royal Marsden for monitoring. My most recent sets of scans were all clear! I’ve also been able to get back into songwriting and playing the piano. Cancer takes so much from you and when your treatment finishes, you can feel quite lost. So, feeling like yourself again is a huge milestone, and Vocal Beats has helped me hugely with this.” 

Your support helps us fund vital projects at The Royal Marsden 

The Vocal Beats project is a joint initiative between The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and rb&hArts, the arts team for Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals. The project was made possible by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, Youth Music and Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity.  

Thanks to our supporters, we can fund initiatives like Vocal Beats to enhance patient health and wellbeing. Discover more about ways you can support us.

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