Music for a While – Blog 6

Music for a While BLOG
BSO Associate – Neil Valentine
Entry 6, 20/10/15

Music for a While – A session in a While…

During set up today I was approached by one of the specialist nurses who has been particularly enjoying the music sessions. One of the patients who had enjoyed a previous session didn’t want to come this week to the group. So I decided to take the music to him. This patient is a classical music fan, and although his speech is hard to understand and he has a dementia diagnosis he made it very clear he enjoys music.

After a whistle stop tour of Radetzky March, some of Bach’s Cello Suite no. 3 and Rondo all Turca he told me his favourite composer is Chopin (not quite ideal for solo viola, but a project to think about…) and clearly said ‘Thank you for the Music, I enjoyed it’.

He still wasn’t interested in the group however. The nurse suggested that it was the collaborative nature that he struggled with. He likes performance of music, being performed to but struggled with the group percussion and the ‘noise’ that comes with this. Which is fine, not everything is for everyone, but I hope that I will be able to persuade him to come down again, perhaps with some Chopin…

On returning to the group room patients were arriving and my normal method is to play music in the background whilst arrivals continue and tea and biscuits are served. This is always a crucial part, as I try to gauge who is in the room. I meet the patients and check in with the staff and hope I can get a sense of who and where we are together. I play a variety of repertoire and see the reactions.

The start was a little delayed so I decided to pass round some of our laminated lyric sheets. After a nice rendition of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean (a Music for a While classic) and Skye Boat Song we were ready to officially begin.

We are sat around a large table with tea in china cups and open packs of biscuits, patients either sat in wheelchairs or transferred to regular chairs, nurses, a couple of volunteers, all surrounded by mobility equipment that is used on the wards.

We begin with the hello song, I strum this on my viola and sing hello to each person. It gradually catches on as the words are learnt through repetition. We are all singing and every time we sing to the next person a smile greets us. This is a very common reaction. Patients who are seemingly elsewhere or unengaged suddenly light up and focus in on the singing and their name. It is a way into their reality and also being sung to is just very nice.

I then like to pass a selection of instruments around the circle from one to another, giving time and space to try out some sounds. Returning patients know what is coming and you might think that varying the start would be useful, but this is such a ice breaking exercise that I stick with it. One lady says ‘I know this, it’s a shaker’. It allows someone to try it out, much like you would different colours if you were painting and get to grips with making some sounds. It is amazing how much patience is shown and space given with encouragement and appreciation shown amongst the participants. Shakers, drums, chime bars, wood blocks, bells all feature and all present different challenges. This also gives me a chance to see who gravitates to which instruments and who has particular physical challenges that may suit a shaker or a drum.

Whilst trying out chime bars, a lady said ‘This sounds like Do-Re-Mi’ and starts singing the famous song. It was fortunate as I had a lyric sheet for that song, which was a great connection. Its these kind of connections that can really validate someone, give them confidence and feel like they have contributed. This is a long song, but all we are really interested in is singing ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer….’ etc. I add in the intro just for context, then we sing around then chorus a few times. Smiles and laughter.

Then we are back to instruments and a game called ‘Start/Stop’. It is as it sounds, someone says ‘Start’ and we all start, sometimes they count in too to give a speed, and then when they feel like they place their hands up and say ‘Stop’ as clear as they can. I try to facilitate rhythmic and melodic playing, hopefully supported by someone who has a strong rhythmic sense on a drum which then can drive the music.

It is amazing how quickly the group catch on to this. This applies to those with varying degrees of dementia and confusion. Music starting and stopping is very clear and deliberate. Strongly rhythmical music seems to build around and inside the group. Whether playing in time or not, participants become part of what is happening, and then when we stop suddenly, the change is unmistakable. Eyes lift up, gazes look round, smiles are exchanged, we did something together! There are lots of looks to me seemingly saying ‘was that ok?’. Of course it was, it always is ok, better than ok in fact, it was perfect.

This time we passed the conductors baton around as a symbol of power. Just a symbol really as to most people a baton is a mythical thing that men with white hair and a serious face wave around whilst wearing a black suit and facing the wrong way. But to some it meant a symbol of responsibility, which is enough.

Before reprising the Hello Song as a Thank you Song we had a go at ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’, which is great fun all round, especially when instruments are added.

Closing a session with the same format and melody as the start, I find, bookends the session nicely, brings us to a familiar point that is always a nice place to end. I then played some more music as the group dispersed, with the amazingly enthusiastic staff taking them back with smiles and in good humour.

I have been asked to play Chopin twice this week so that is my next challenge. Watch this space.

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