Kate Miller-Heidke describes The Healing Tree as “pure comfort”. The idea for this single swirled in her mind when, before the pandemic, she joined a group of six singer-songwriters who travelled to hospitals across Australia. They listened to stories of women becoming mothers, medical staff working through the night, carers nurturing babies just brought into the world.
They heard a common need: the space to feel calm and supported.
“I met a whole lot of pregnant mothers, some of whom had been in hospital for a long time – three months or so – and just spoke to them about their experiences, what they were going through. And that was inspiration for writing the song,” Kate shares.
The Healing Tree is a single from The Hush Foundation’s upcoming album Nightlight. It showcases a range of soothing songs featuring the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and a host of well-known Australian singer-songwriters including Kate, Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin), Emily Wurramara, Megan Washington, Missy Higgins, and Naomi Crellin.
It’s the nineteenth release for Hush which, under the leadership of Dr Catherine Crock, produces music to be used in a therapeutic way. Each Australian composition is designed to comfort vulnerable people in stressful environments, particularly in hospitals and medical settings.
The Healing Tree opens with gentle wind instruments before Kate weaves a lullaby over a bed of strings. This orchestral track creates a magical escape from the overwhelming pressures of new parenthood.
“I was drawn to the project as soon as Catherine Crock contacted me about it and explained what it was. As a new mother, it was personally resonant,” Kate says.
“I loved the thought that it was almost like music therapy. It’s a beautiful idea.”
Kate, who gave birth to son Ernie in 2016, describes her own experience of labour as “quite traumatic, and I think that’s extremely common”.
“Just what women go through is something I didn’t have a real appreciation for until it happened to me,” Kate says.
“I felt really bonded and really grateful to all the women who have come before me and literally birthed every single person on the planet.”
Hush strengthens this bond through music. Parents, carers, and staff in maternity wards and clinics are given permission – as Kate sings – to “rest until the morning. Dry your tears; here, peace and comfort embrace you”.
An artist praised for her award-winning contemporary songs, Kate describes the opportunity to work with the TSO as “like having access to all the colours on the palette”.
“The power of it, the dynamics, all the different colours and timbre – it’s like the difference between flying a helicopter and flying a jet plane. It’s exhilarating.”
Inspired by the ethereal music of Enya, Kate composed “a beautiful bath for the ears”. Her partner Keir Nuttall penned the lyrics, while composer Erkki Veltheim set her melody and chords to orchestral instruments.
On these enchanting arrangements, Dr Catherine Crock says “the TSO sound brings an added dimension; a certain ‘grandeur’ to the Hush music experience on this Nightlight album”.
“It adds a richness that is soothing and enveloping, supporting the singers as they weave their magic.”
Hush and the TSO have been “special friends” since 2013, when they united for the release of Hush: The Magic Island – the thirteenth volume in the series. Through the calming sounds of the orchestra, that stirring album was created with the compositional talents of Elena Kats-Chernin, Maria Grenfell, Paul Stanhope, and Ross Edwards, among others.
Now, in Nightlight, an equally impressive line-up of talent is involved.
Catherine says these artists were chosen for their values of “kindness, respect, and generosity”.
“We were looking for artists who would each bring their own perspective to the project whilst working well together and with the TSO,” Catherine says.
“Their extraordinary talent goes without saying; we knew we were in safe hands. Their own unique experiences of parenthood, which they reflected on in their songs, brought out the best in each of them.”
The Hush community is a welcoming one, and it has continued to grow through Nightlight. Conductors Benjamin Northey and Greg Stephens, and TSO Director Artistic Planning Simon Rogers, also helped lead a team of more than 40 performers, sound engineers, composers, and arts administrators who together realised this powerful project.
Nightlight is released during an especially challenging time. The album was started before the pandemic, while musicians could still connect in person with patients and carers. However, as it launches in 2022, its function has evolved.
“Parenthood and carer roles have expanded and changed, particularly with the pandemic,” Catherine observes.
“This has placed added stress and burden on many families who may find themselves separated from loved ones and unable to access their usual supports.
“It is more important than ever to bring kindness to the fore, and to help each other as much as possible.”
Catherine hopes Nightlight will provide a lifeline to those confined to bed, waiting for care; to those who are embarking on their journey as young parents; to staff who give their all as they care for others.
Even to Catherine – herself a medical practitioner and mother – Nightlight makes her feel “optimistic and uplifted”.
“It engages my mind at the same time as letting my thoughts drift and unwind,” she says.
“It can be hard to accept taking time for yourself especially with so many demands on your time. Hush hopes to gently encourage and remind you to take care of yourself, too.”
On the importance of care for mothers – for us all – Kate adds: “For anyone who’s going through a hard time, feeling seen and feeling acknowledged can make a big difference.”
“That’s been true for me. During pregnancy and labour, you can feel quite alone. It can be meaningful to know there’s a big community of women who have your back, and who know what you’re going through.”