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.

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