Music for a While – Blog 2

Music for a While BLOG
BSO Associate – Neil Valentine
Entry 2, 25/07/15

BSO Associate Neil Valentine is working acute older peoples wards in Poole, Portsmouth and Hampshire Hospitals. He will be visiting the each ward once a week for 6 months.This is a collection of his thoughts, feelings, impressions and experiences.

Making Connections – Jigs, Songs and a Slow Dance.

From my previous experience working with patients suffering from Dementia, making connections has been the key motivation. Finding a new way to connect with someone who may be operating on a different level to you. Finding a musical language in that moment that can connect you together. In a closed session this is possible as you find your space, your safety and you can open up and begin to find some expression. But on the wards the distractions and uncertainties make this very hard to achieve. So the primary method is for me to play, to perform, and try to make connections through this rather than a directly, two-way, musical conversation.

Just playing is often the most appropriate way of making music, especially in a bay. When I am able to present music in a calm and non-intrusive manner I have only been met with appreciation. That implies that there have been times of ‘non-appreciation’ and yes, I admit, a couple of times I have been informed by a patient that they would rather have their own silence. This is of course fine and is one of the problems with working in bays, where the patients have not chosen to be there. However this has only happened when I have tried to interact with a patient through speech or eye-contact. Mostly when this request has been made of me I have been able to still play in the same room, just away from that particular patient.

A key to making these connections are nursing staff, most of whom are very engaged and invested in their work. This week we have had dancing to Irish jigs with the husband of an elderly patient, slow dances to Elvis, chime bars, shakers, conducting and tears in response to a lady’s gratitude to the nurse for making music with her. Truly beautiful connections.

So connections can go either way, but so far the vast majority have been positive connections. Simply playing live music seems to make people want to open up, to connect, to smile and to enjoy. This was clear when two ladies, both of whom seemed to be ‘feigning’ sleep, started to hum along to my version of My Favourite Things. After singing this twice, followed up by Do-a-Deer, My Bonnie, Skye Boat Song and Daisy, Daisy, they clearly were wide awake, heads up and smiling. It turned out one of them had been in her church choir for 40 years, and she had such an amazing voice. Full and rich. It was the first time I was able to get engagement and real singing in the ward. And it seemed to be due firstly to the music choice. Something about Sound of Music spoke for this lady, and she went with it.

So my challenge is to keep building the repertoire that I can pull out of my head when the situation seems to warrant it. I have had plenty of requests, and I will do my best to learn them and get them into the sessions.

One thing is clear, when you are hoping to make connections, you need common ground, and it seems that music that is recognised is a way to do this. Improvisation will always be a part of what I do, and the ability to extend the feeling of a particular piece or engage or prolong the experience is key, but building the appropriate repertoire, playing it with as little notation as possible and performing it in an inclusive and beautiful manner goes a long way to beginning to make connections.


Haytor View Early Years Music Project – Blog 8

Haytor View Early Years Music Project with BSO Devon Associate Hugh Nankivell.
Thursday July 16th – afternoon session.

Last session of the term and – as the school is moving into a brand new build next term – we decided to go outside today, to say good bye to the space and also to see what the provocation of the outside world would bring.

Interesting mix of energy and ideas when composing a group song (with quite a big group of 13 plus two adults) as opposed to getting on with stuff on their own or in small groups. We made a very nice big song together, but actually I think that it was most appreciated by me and the class teacher (and later the parents) rather than the children! This balance of teacher/adult-led or child-led is really crucial and I understand that there needs to be a balance in most classroom situations, but really aware of the energy difference in this today.

Group song lyrics (all the words from individuals in the group, but mainly sung by me):


verse 1
The sun can be the ceiling (x3)
Grass can be the carpet

Outside inside inside outside
You and me

verse 2
The wind can be the wall (x3)
The crates can be the door

verse 3
The trees can be the roof (x3)
The tyres can be the window

A few things:

When we were in the big group at one point one boy asked me ‘when are we going to play?’ I answered that we already were playing, we were playing music. But he clearly meant when was he going to be allowed to go off and play his own game (which might have included music!) and make his own rules. I told him he could go and play and so he did – mostly without instruments, but occasionally with.

  1. ‘E’ composed a very simple, but clear new composition for me to perform (see the photo of ‘E’ composing ‘Clapping and Stamping’) which involved clapping, stamping, strumming the guitar, playing the guitar beautifully, waving my hair and playing the guitar quietly. She has really got a wonderful understanding of scoring.
  2. ‘W’ again composed a new piece and was tearful that he could not perform it in the assembly (we didn’t have time). This was again scored and had sections for voice, uke, drums and shakers.
E composing 'Clapping and Stamping' outside

E composing ‘Clapping and Stamping’ outside

It was only after school and I was chatting with the class teacher that I was reminded that ‘W’ had been one of the children on the first week who had really resisted making up new songs. He sang me existing pop songs and was evidently very musical, but did not seem to have the confidence to create new music. However, in the space of eight sessions, he is now a fully fledged and wonderful composer.

I will not be seeing ‘W’ or ‘E’ and many of the others next term as they move on to year one, and I will be continuing with the foundation stage. Sad to see them go, but we got some great comments from their parents at the final assembly including these two:

I think it’s amazing how all the kids join in and that the kids get a chance to make              up their own songs and sing them.’ 

 ‘We have been making up songs in lots of situations at home since songwriting                 assembly… Thursdays are lovely.’

Roll on September.

Music for a While – Blog 1

Music for a While BLOG
BSO Associate – Neil Valentine
Entry 1, 02/07/15

Music and Dementia. BSO Associate Neil Valentine is working acute older peoples wards in Poole, Portsmouth and Hampshire Hospitals. He will be visiting the each ward once a week for 6 months.This is a collection of his thoughts, feelings, impressions and experiences.

First Impressions

Music for a While is now at the end of week 2, and with a week’s gap to contend with, there are some reflections and thoughts that have been constant companions from the start.

Firstly I am blown away by the positivity and generosity of the nurses and staff in all settings. There is a real sense in these wards that real care and compassion for the patients makes a difference. The welcome and space they give visitors and relatives of patients is also very moving to see, and this has allowed me to just slip into ward life, play some nice music, share some instruments and musical games, and leave with smiles on faces.

My first barrier to overcome is how to approach working in a hospital bay, when there may be up to 6 patients with visitors or family around, and I am intending to bring some calm and positivity to the space. Firstly this is often already the case, due to the work of the nurses, but the problem with music is it is made up of sound.

Sound has an annoying habit of just going. It travels, and musicians have difficulty directing it in a specific manner. I cannot take my viola into a patient bay and just play to one patient, the very definition of sound means it goes in all directions it can. And that means everyone can hear it.

So I can play quieter so as not to disturb, or I can play very relaxing and calming music or improvisations that will bring as many people in to my world as possible, and these do work.

But when a patient would like something more upbeat, or perhaps clearly wants to be ‘involved’ in the music making, rather than just being a listener, this is where things can more difficult.

To connect properly you have to meet the audience half way, you have to go where they want you to go, and then be the musician you are in that space. And being this way for multiple people at the same time is very difficult indeed.

So the thought remains, how to effectively make meaningful musical connections in a hospital bay, when the very source of that connection for one person may indeed prevent a musical connection for someone else?

Just something to ponder as we go on.

Music for a While continues second week of July.

BSO Associate Neil Valentine running a session a Poole Hospital

BSO Associate Neil Valentine running a session a Poole Hospital

Haytor View Early Years Music Project – Blog 7

Haytor View Early Years Music Project with BSO Devon Associate Hugh Nankivell Thursday July 9th – afternoon session.

Since last week my relationship with the parents has changed, and this is great. They come up and talk to me, they smile more, they ask me questions and they joined in with the singing in the assembly! It feels really good that through the children, and the support of the school, I am now making some good relationships which is great for furthering our music-making next term at Haytor View.

Today ‘J’ was really interested in how the ukulele and the guitar worked and asked me loads of questions about the headstock and the bridge and other bits (most of which I did not know the name for). He then looked in my guitar and saw some wires (it is a semi-acoustic) and asked what they were for. While I was spending some time pondering, he answered himself ‘to make it go?’ And I replied yes. He then looked in the uke and saw that there were no wires. He asked why, and again before I answered he said ‘because it doesn’t need any?’ He then banged his uke on my guitar and said ‘my guitar played your guitar’. He also strummed the strings at the headstock end and noted how quiet that was.

‘J’ was really exploring how the instrument works and how it produces sound and for some people they need to know these things before they can proceed with actually making any music.

‘J made a song and he played it in assembly and also afterwards to his parents (who didn’t come to the celebration assembly.) [After ‘J’ had sung the song to his parents, his dad asked me about guitar playing and showed me J’s brother’s guitar – this another example of my developing a relationship at the school]

The words were:

I love my Mum
I love my dad
I like my bike
I like my scooter
But my pedal is off my bike

IMG_2685 (2)

W’s score and instruments

‘W’ again closely observed my provocation at the start of the session (another graphic score) and then set to work, just as last week. He did bits of composing and each time politely requested that I listen/engage/support him. ‘W’ ended up with a one page piece for voice, ukulele, drum and shaker. It was called:

People Grow So Fast

How do people grow so fast x2
Let’s count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
How do people grow so fast x2
They just grow so fast
How do people grow so fast x2
Watch this – little to big

He really took on board the idea of dynamic shifts (he had a section for quiet drum) and drew the shakers to represent that bit. He performed the whole song in assembly (including to his dad). Later I had a chat with his dad about the fact that he has a piano at home and loves to play it and work out tunes and also how he prefers to put a CD on and play along to it rather than to put the TV on!

Resonate Strings & Creative Composition Workshop

Resonate Strings & Creative Composition Workshop – Fri 3rd July
Sam Mason – BSO Associate & BSO Resonate Strings
Winton & Glenmoor Secondary School

A fantastic morning of music making was had by all today at Glenmoor Secondary School

Year 8 & 9 GCSE music pupils had the opportunity to get up close and personal with members of the BSO Resonate String Quintet who performed for the pupils. BSO Resonate took them on an amazing musical history lesson exploring and demonstrating various string techniques, compositional ideas and developments in classical music over the last 250 years.

After a quick break, we then got down to creating our own brand new composition with the Resonate players composing, performing and collaborating with the pupils.

We took rhythmic body percussion patterns and elements of ‘Minimalist’ music as our starting points, developing and expanding the ideas using compositional techniques from some of the pieces we had heard in the concert. The result – “The Winton & Glenmoor Variations”

A huge well done to all the pupils who listened so attentively in the concert and who took part in the creative composition workshop. Thanks also for welcoming us to your school and for the delicious pastries and tea at break time!

We all look forward to coming back soon and creating some more fabulous music

Sam Mason

Haytor View Early Years Music Project – Blog 6

Haytor View Early Years Music Project with BSO Devon Associate Hugh Nankivell Wednesday July 1st – afternoon session.

Really great session from the playing with the kids and familes as they arrived to the end of the ‘big concert’ in the hall.

The provocation today had some immediate responses. I took in a ‘score’ with three different ways of writing – curly purple words for singing (and indicating pitch), straight orange words for speaking, and pink dots for playing (again showing relative pitch). and a very simple story-line. I sang the piece to the class and showed them the score.

The second thing is that I took in 3 xylophones and 2 glockenspiels today and used them in the provocation. These instruments became key to the session and were used throughout by the group. At one point the class teacher pointed out that they are really ideal instruments as the children can sing along to each syllable with them – and sometimes you can see the singing even without hearing it.

So ‘W’ created a wonderful new song during the whole of the session called ‘What music is it’. He replicated some of the provocation – like repeating three times and different colours for each line. ‘W’ and I played together for a few minutes. he got my assurance that this was ok, and then took a xylophone over to a table, got paper and pens and set to work. He composed the piece over the next hour, moving with the music as he sang and played and wrote it down. Each time he came to the end of a page he asked me for another and then continued writing it out, it ended up being 3 pieces of paper taped together.

I was reminded of the combined joy of creating and usefulness of graphic notation when I saw Bjork at the weekend performing live as she had two large film projections of graphic music for two of her songs. It was really inspiring and just like ‘W’ relating his music and visuals together.

‘E’ also responded and made new music and songs, but probably less to my direct provocation. She did make up a new song (about Sports Day – again incorporating what was going on into her world – today is sports day at the school) and did do a ‘score’ but this was a picture, but it did include all five elements to her song – running, jumping, kicking drinking and first aid kit.

Again I observed a connection between child music making and adult, as later in the afternoon we had a parents session and composed a new song with them (without the children – I am not sure that they were really expecting this at all!) and this was also about sports day. When I asked what we should make up a song about the first response was ‘sports day’. So ‘E’ and the adult group responded in the same way. They both used what was relevant and interesting to make up a new song. The group of parents (about thirty in all) made up a song really quckly and then proudly sang it to the children when they came in.

SPORTS DAY (by the parents/carers)
Run run run
Sun is shining
What a lot of fun
Everyone is smiling
Sports Day
Sports Day

I imagine this was a first for most of the parents and it was great to chat with them during and after the event.

The picture shows my provocation (top left) and the two scores by ‘W’ (right) and ‘E’ (bottom left)  that were then composed as a response.