Cape Town doctor sings for the children’s hospital

A Cape Town paediatric oncologist is using his music to raise funds for transformational initiatives at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

marc hendricks doctor upright citizen
Dr Marc Hendricks releases his first solo album, Upright Citizen, on 22 April 2017. Proceeds from sales will be given to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, where he is a paediatric oncologist. (Images supplied)

Melissa Javan
Dr Marc Hendricks, a paediatric oncologist, is keeping both his dreams alive. The singer and songwriter is launching his debut solo album, Upright Citizen on 22 April 2017 and in the process is also fundraising for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, where he works.

He will release the album at a show at the Artscape theatre in Cape Town, and says the proceeds of the show and sales of the CDs will go to the haematology oncology department at Red Cross.

Upright Citizen is Hendricks’ fourth musical release, his second full album and first solo album. “This debut album shares Hendricks’ stories, sometimes intimate, always honest, traversing the story of his life, family and work inspired by his earliest love affairs with music and creative writing,” reads a press release.

In the late 1990s, Hendricks collaborated with his friend and musician, Gavin Goldberg, to record the two singles, Danger (1999) and Satisfy (2000). In 2001, they released the album Clear.

An upright citizen

His mother, a music lover, bought a dark wood, Ibach upright piano from a store in Wynberg, Cape Town in 1975, when her eldest daughter was eight years old, Hendricks explains on his website. His mother’s desire was that each of her children learn to play at least one music instrument.

“Back then, R1,000 was a fortune for someone on a teacher’s salary but my mom was determined. That was to become the instrument that we would all learn to play on,” he writes.

“Both my parents and my older sisters have great singing voices. We would sing in three-part harmony while doing the dishes… We all learned our musical chops in church.”

Both his sisters learned the piano as well as the tenor recorder and flute. “I took to the piano but ‘dropped out’ of formalised teaching early, in preference for learning at my sisters’ feet (or hands) and ‘doing my own thing’, which was how my writing started.

“I already knew then that singing was in my DNA.”

His sisters married and moved away, he says, but the upright piano stayed behind.

This is where his journey with the family piano started — their long hours of storytelling began. “After university, I moved out of home and the upright came with me spanning a period of roughly 20 years during which we continued to write together.

“About a year ago I renovated my home and now with fewer walls left to host a conspicuous upright, it sadly had to return to my parents’ home. She (the upright piano) now occupies pride of place in the family room next to the kitchen, a familiar friend in the city of memories that is the story of my family.

“I am unashamedly her citizen. She gave me these stories.”

Watch Dr Marc Hendricks perform his composition Bird Song for the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town’s 100 Centenary performance:

Brand South Africa journalist Melissa Javan spoke to Hendricks:

Melissa Javan: How many children are treated at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital monthly and yearly?

Dr Marc Hendricks: I can’t say. Across all services in the in- and outpatient services, visits must run into the thousands per annum. In haematology oncology, where I work, we see approximately 150 new patients a year.

MJ: What is the importance of the oncology department at Red Cross?

MH: The Red Cross Oncology unit is one of 10 academic units around the country that treat children with cancer, bone marrow failure syndromes and blood disorders.

We form part of a national community of service providers along with colleagues in the private sector who function under the rubric of the South African Children’s Cancer Study Group. Under this banner, along with our non-governmental partners, we strive to deliver the best comprehensive cancer care to children under our care.

MJ: What are your highlights of working as a doctor at Red Cross?

MH: There are many. The kids are wonderful.

We get to form long-term relationships with our patients and families. I am also fortunate enough to work in a building with colleagues who are prepared to go the extra mile for the kids. This makes hard work less hard.

MJ: What do you hope to achieve with your CD, Upright Citizen?

MH: Firstly, it’s the launch of my debut CD which has taken 20 months to complete. I want to do it justice on the night [of the release performance] and to give it a platform for the music to become better known.

Secondly, the money I collect from ticket sales is going to the hospital for some of the transformation projects we have planned for the department.

MJ: Have you done a charity event for Red Cross before?

MH: I have organised events for Red Cross before as part of the Faculty of Health Sciences Centenary Celebrations in 2012, an art exhibition called “My One Hundred Wishes for Tomorrow”, which was a collaboration with the Peter Clark Art Centre, and a show called Uhambo: The Journey.

They weren’t strictly fundraisers but events meant to highlight the activities of the hospital as they relate to the children that we serve.

MJ: Working with sick children must be emotionally draining. What keeps you motivated?

MH: You have to do something away from work that keeps you going, whatever that is — music, sport, hiking, dogs.

Everyone has something that gives them balance. For me one of those things is music.

MJ: With the launch of your CD, will you still be working as a doctor or do you plan to sing full time?

MH: No, I intend to do exactly what I’m doing now, which is having the best of both worlds. I also, like everyone else, have a bond to pay [smiling].

Anyway, I also have my PhD to finish. Life takes desire and discipline (and endurance). If you can pull that off, you can do pretty much anything.

There are plenty of people like me (doctors, I mean specifically) who are great artists or musicians.

I think Oscar Wilde said: “Be a verb not a noun”. So, I heal, sing and write, cook, and various other things, none of which are mutually exclusive.

marc hendricks solo album
Over the years, Dr Marc Hendricks has composed for local artists — by himself or in collaboration — including Judith Sephuma, Peter Grant and Naomi Suzuki.

MJ: How do you juggle your two passions of music and medicine?

MH: You have to manage your time well otherwise things pass you by.

Only you are responsible for making your dreams come true, no-one else. No-one owes you anything. You have to get up and do the work.

MJ: Tell us a bit about the work you did on Upright Citizen.

MH: [It took] about 20 months altogether to complete.

It took about six to eight months working with my amazing producer and friend, Amanda Tiffin, on all the compositional work. We started recording last September at Paris Studios in Fish Hoek.

The mastering and mixing was done by the incredible Tim Leitner in New York at Sound Carver Records.

All the other organising, design and putting the show together with Artscape happened in parallel.

The key is to work with good people who know their craft, are partners in the creative process and are as excited about the work as you are. It’s been an absolute blast, worth every ounce of sacrifice. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

MJ: How do you feel about your upcoming live performance?

MH: Excited! Like I say, I surrounded myself with an amazing team of directors, musicians and technical staff so it’s all systems go now.

MJ: Lastly, what made you decide to become a doctor?

MH: Neither medicine nor music were my first choice as a career, which goes to show just how little you know about anything when you have just matriculated.

I always wanted to be a vet actually, being completely obsessed with animals. But by a happy “mistake” I chose medicine after I left school for various complicated reasons.

The music chose me. I have been singing since I was a toddler crawling around my parents’ legs in church and I have been doing music ever since.

Singing and playing piano grew into songwriting and here I am: a paediatric oncologist singer songwriter – [it’s] mad really but very fulfilling!

Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, in Rondebosch in Cape Town, was built in 1956.

It is the largest, standalone tertiary hospital dedicated entirely to child healthcare in Southern Africa, according to its website. The hospital is a public, tertiary hospital as well as a teaching hospital for the University of Cape Town.

“This iconic children’s hospital is world-renowned and is committed to delivering world-class paediatric treatment, care, research and specialist training,” states the website.

There are about 260,000 patient visits a year, the majority of whom are from exceptionally poor and marginalised communities. One third of the patients are younger than a year.

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