Making Bridges with Music: Finding Treasure

We are telling a story. In fact, we are mostly playing and singing a story. Accordion, guitar, percussion, shells, bananas, sheet music, baton and a chest full of surprises. Some of the story is familiar. You might recognise a melody or a lyric but because of the unique group of people that are taking part, it’s our very own story. An original tale that weaves its way though the hour or so that we have together every Tuesday morning in Bethesda Care Home in Torquay.

The authors of this story are aged from 18 months to 90 years plus. A mix of elderly
residents and their carers, children with their child minders and 2 musicians with their film maker. We set the scene because that’s what we do; it’s become the expectation of all the participants. Equipment is fetched to help narrate and open the imagination. Instruments become tools for building a boat, walking frames become bridges and lorries and we set sail to be pushed and pulled in what ever direction the wind might be blowing on this particular Tuesday.

It’s exciting and loud. It’s focused and gentle. At moments we can be completely still with
little or no noise but which ever mood we are in, it’s still our story. Today we are looking for treasure. The narrative has moved from the familiar front room, down the steps and into a beautiful (real life) garden. A treasure chest has been buried and the smallest of our collective are on the hunt. They are totally absorbed in the story. In the background, a little boy plays with a toy piano in the middle of the lawn. Two older residents experiment with bird whistles which mingle with the laughter of the children and the actual Bethesda garden bird song.

This is our fourth session out of six and we are already approaching the final chapters. How will it finish? That depends on the direction we decide to go. Maybe we won’t finish it at all. A never-ending story is what some of the elderly residents have suggested. A forever story. An ever story. Who knows, it’s all in the making anyway.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to
make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more. The project is funded primarily by Awards For All and with the support of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Doorstep Arts and Torbay Council.

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Making Bridges with Music: Under the Sea

At Pendennis Care Home, our group of children (aged 3 and younger), residents (mainly over 80), artists, staff and child-minders have just spent our third morning together.

Two of the constants in our sessions so far have been the accordion and a large purple sheet of Lycra. The accordion ‘breathes’ and we all breathe with it, it accompanies the new songs we make together, and now we are all starting to play it too. The Lycra is stretched between us – 25 or more pairs of hands – creating a trampoline, a stormy sea, an imaginary space linking us all together. Soft toys take to the waves and are toppled this way and that as we sing, provoking gleeful shrieks and a slight sense of danger.

Last week, as young and old made pictures together, E (aged 3) led a story-song about all the inhabitants under the sea – sharks, dolphins, crabs, butterflies… At the end, under our Lycra waves, he invited … “Do you want to come under the sea with me?” And so, this is where we began this week … singing, painting and playing under the sea.

Pitched instruments, chimes, bells, xylophones, glockenspiels and a water gong – a cacophony of watery sounds as residents and children experiment, exchanging beaters, instruments, glances and few words. Watching and listening. Some are mirroring each other’s playing. As the singing begins, I start to paint the songs … a fish, a mermaid … and P gravitates towards the paint. P is 3 and has been more reticent to engage so far. Others follow her and in no time at all their painting is awash with colours.

One resident, E, has been watching the children closely as they paint, whilst playing on a chime instrument. L (age 2½) comes up with hands covered in paint and picks up a beater to join E on the chime. E and L exchange looks and touch. When L takes herself off to wash her hands, E reflects – “I used to know a little girl just like that. It was me. I loved it – I was always painting.” She remembers playing the piano and talks about the children she didn’t have.

Later, out in the garden, a game starts with a big inflatable ball – sitting in a circle with children and water-play in the middle. At first it’s carefully coordinated, helping residents to catch and throw it – to C, to H, to M, to S, to N, to P. P gets the ball, but she can’t throw it back into the group. The children know what to do and are too excited to wait. Three children go up to P, gently take it from her hands and begin the game again.

It’s a sign of how much everyone has ‘settled in’. The children are less tentative, less cautious. There is more noise, mess and excitement – which all seems manageable in the open air. It’s as if we’ve crossed the bridge and are now starting to roam around the pasture on the other side – meeting friends young and old and muddling along together, sharing toys, time and songs.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more. The project is funded primarily by Awards For All and with the support of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Doorstep Arts and Torbay Council.

Making Bridges with Music: ‘A’ The Conductor and Composer

Making Bridges with Music is a project which sees childminders take early years children into care and residential homes, to make music together with the residents.

In the second week of the project one of the older residents ‘A’ who is 97 years old, told me how he loved Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart and so, the following week, I played it on the accordion as the whole group of ten residents, ten young children, childminders and carers all danced with their hands until I stopped playing. I noticed that ‘A’ really seemed to be conducting. He came alive as the music was playing. So this week I brought in a conductors baton and offered it to ‘A’. I explained that I would play the Mozart, but would follow his tempo and expression. ‘A’  immediately leaned forward in his chair and held the baton up and then conducted beautifully. He looked as if he had been doing this all his life, making sure he had eye contact with all of us in the room, checking each section of his ‘orchestra’ and using his hands and face very expressively. It was a wonderful performance.

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After ‘A’ we then had three other conductors, two young and another resident. As these others conducted (varying speed enormously!) ‘A’ continued to also conduct without the baton. It seemed as if he had discovered his vocation. When talking to him he described how he had never played an instrument, but had sung in choirs for some of his adult life. When watching ‘A’ play the hand percussion, observing him singing and seeing him conducting makes me wonder what his musical career could have been. It is not too late – for even now he is playing in our multi-generational orchestra and having (or so it seems) the time of his life.

Later on various young and old all had a go playing on my accordion as I held it and worked the bellows. I asked ‘A’ if he would like to and he nodded. So I came nearer and he played a very lovely little four bar melody. It was complete in itself. He had played enough and did not want to play any more. Later in the afternoon we transcribed this melody and used it as the basis for a new song from the group which we called ‘Memory Box’.

We discovered today that ‘A’ is both conductor and composer – perhaps new careers for a man in his nineties, inspired and rejuvenated by having young people come into his residential home to play with him.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more.
This is a project funded primarily by Awards For All.

Making Bridges with Music: G’s Birdsong

Making Bridges with Music is a project which sees childminders take early years children into care and residential homes, to make music together with the residents.

G is a 79-year old resident of The Warberries. The first time I met him, my colleague (who’d been helping to co-ordinate a previous gardening project with children and childminders at the home) was surprised by how animated and cheerful he appeared and remained for the session. G seems to me to be very talkative, although his speech is quite disorganised and he often talks about and remembers parts of his professional life. As a porter he looked after young adults, some with disabilities and some with mental health, and he was by accounts, well respected and liked by his charges.

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At the beginning of session 2, he entered the room and clapped and danced with a red ukulele to entertain the children, he has exuded smiles and humour throughout both sessions. Today he was joined and supported throughout by his wife, D. With his regular verbal and musical interventions, G is a really compelling participant to track and capture.


Hugh and Jade were guiding and recreating the Oz-inspired story from Session 1. At the point where mirrors and mirroring came into the narrative, G seemed to take over, as if conducting; producing a birdlike whistling sound and flailing his arms. He then proceeded to sing in a sonorous Scottish folk voice, a series of verses to the room, and everyone quietened in response to him while his wife looked on in apparent incredulity. No one recognised the song, but upon replaying the video later that day and transcribing it together, we think G was inventing a lot of it in the moment. We recognised the melody of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, a song that another resident has played on keyboard at both of our Friday sessions, and we recognised fragments of bird themed imagery, perhaps growing out of the whistling sounds. While he sang, he seemed to be making wings with his arms, as if gliding.


The wings are like this
The birds begin to fly
But Mum returns and seems very unhappy
To see that her babies have gone
So It’s now a year
Before you’ll hear
The only one you’ll hear is a little robin
And he is a very good man
And his love is well shown
And we’ll meet again to us


By the end of session, h
is mood had adjusted and he seemed quietly emotional and contemplative, talking to his wife who may have been unpacking it all with him. I talked to them both and she was still quite shocked by the singing. What really inspired me is that D insists she hasn’t heard him sing before, in over 30 years of marriage. Jo, the manager of Warberries, was also able to affirm the change; he has been singing regularly during lunchtimes since our first session here last week.

 

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G seems to have found some freedom to sing performatively, so I wonder about the changing of permissions in that space and to what extent these precipitated G’s creative outburst. Mostly, I wonder about the song and I look forward to seeing/hearing the life of the invention play out, with ideas in my head but no solid expectations.

Next week we are planning to make paper birds and to have ambient birdsong coming through a Bluetooth speaker at the start of (and throughout?) the session.