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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

A thought whilst cycling

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Participate Associate

I recently finished a BSO Associates project in Torbay. For this project I travelled to all my sessions and planning meetings by bike. I didn’t have to take many instruments or much equipment (at most a melodica, a laptop, a shaky egg, a notebook and some lunch) and the school I was working in was nearby. It felt very good being able to cycle to the sessions. I was energising myself and being a rare role model for musicians on bikes.

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I remember when I was working with Opera North in Yorkshire there was a member of the orchestra who travelled to most concerts and workshops by bike, with his viola on his back. He was unusual, but I have often thought of him in the years since.

I felt a sense of relief at not having to take a whole load of equipment. When I am working in care homes or with early years I usually need to take in a keyboard, an accordion, a guitar, a box of percussion, some ukuleles, a white-board, my laptop, pens, roll of paper etc etc… This means that even if the session is nearby I cannot travel by foot or bike, but must go by private motorised transport. I accept that at times this is (probably) inevitable.

I recently had a meeting with Ben Twist who works for Creative Carbon Scotland, he was telling me about the changes in thinking he is encouraging with arts organisations in Scotland to do with their carbon footprints. Some organisations are better at coping with (and even anticipating change) and others much less good. How does an organisation that has a massive infrastructure (a symphony orchestra, a ballet or opera company) actually think about reducing its carbon use when it is wedded to a model that is massively consumptive of fossil fuels and is based on a repertoire and practise that is based on a model of practise from previous centuries?

With the BSO we are starting to think about new models and the Associate Scheme is one such. The six of us are spread out across the region and not based at a central depot (Bournemouth/Poole) and so the BSO can now access the communities of the SW more effectively even though we still may need to travel distances, usually by private transport. The recent ABO conference hosted by the BSO entitled ‘Disruption’ was a real provocation towards exploring what the Symphony orchestra can be in the future (where there are women conductors, more BME and disabled performers) and another part of this should could be, how do we plan for a constantly changing world.

The BSO is also starting to look at these issues with the SW virtual orchestra, and the recent appointment of James Rose as new ‘Change Maker’. So this is the start of a journey to a truly inclusive orchestra to which we travel as participants and audience by bike or public transport or visit virtually, where the music we play is affected by the world we live in and is able to change and reflect this.

The Lightbulbs with Hugh Nankivell

When you are running a music ensemble in a school and playing music that is already fixed and composed and where there are parts printed out and not many people turn up and you get frustrated because your orchestra/big band/choir is not working, what do you do? Do you battle on without flutes or altos or rhythm section? Or do you stop the group and give up making ensemble music? Or do you try something else completely?

At Torquay Girls Grammar School (TGGS) we are running an experiment to run a band for anyone, whatever experience they have and on whatever instrument they want to play. So far we have a group of about fifteen to twenty year nine girls who come along every Wednesday lunchtime for about 55 minutes. They play a range of instruments, which we have divided into an ensemble of 4 sections, untuned percussion (mainly drums), tuned percussion (glockenspiels and xylophones), keyboards and strings (so far with a harp, a violin, a guitar and a ukulele). Only about a quarter have instrumental lessons and would consider themselves to be musicians. We have named ourselves ‘The Lightbulbs’ and begun to compose our own music. After three sessions, a series of original musical and narrative ideas are emerging.

The Lighbulbs are motivated to come each week, and we are starting to have discussions about why this is the case. I have explained that unlike a regular orchestra it doesn’t matter what the line-up is, and if students want to change instruments that is ok, and if one week some people are missing, similarly, this is not a disaster. We also talk about how we have differing instrumental and listening abilities, but when we listen to the music we are making we realise that it can work as a coherent whole. At the end of the third session I asked the girls to write down on a post-it note what their thoughts were about ‘The Lightbulbs’ and here is their list.

People can just play along with what sounds right,
Playing, (and a picture of a little heart)
We have a wide range of instruments,
I like how we come up with our own music,
I like it how it builds up to get louder,
I like the variety of instruments in our band,
It’s really creative and no idea is a bad idea,
I like squirrels and chestnuts, (two of the sections in our developing piece)
I like that everyone’s really friendly and work well together,
I like the variety of instruments and sounds of each group and the different sections,
I love the lovely atmosphere and people, (and a picture of a lightbulb)
I like how many different kinds of instruments that are in the lightbulbs,
I like how the lighbulbs work so well together and able to adapt to work together,
I like the atmosphere.

These comments are really positive and make both me and the class music teacher at TGGS, Naomi Shaddick, excited about the future of both ‘The Lightbulbs’ and this model of playing together.

This is part of my BSO Music Associate work and is funded with money from Torbay Music Hub as part of their new ensembles project.


LIGHTBULBS following session

I began the session asking the group what they wanted to do today. Initially I got silence and surprised looks, but gradually three answers emerged. It felt as if I was being provocative in starting the ‘Lightbulbs’ lunchtime band with this question, and of course it was, in the best sense of the ‘provocative’ word. We make music collaboratively and we find out what it is that we need collaboratively. It is not so unusual.

The three answers were:

  1. To make a new section for the piece,
  2. To make some more lyrics,
  3. To rehearse the section we created 2 weeks earlier entitled ‘Wind.’

I wrote these three answers up on the board and then after a couple of warm-up games and a little chat about the purpose of warm-up games, and me reading them my blog post from the previous week we got on with our agenda. We achieved all of it and more.

The band is getting smaller each week, but that is perhaps to be expected. The music teacher commented that we were down to a normal lunchtime band size now! The group that now regularly comes (and there were ten yesterday) are learning to create together and how to make interesting new music with a range of differing instrumental skills. We discussed how this particular band does not require people to be there every week and when they are missing we find new ways to make music. One percussionist revealed that in one section of the music she relied on her partner to play a part which she then imitated. Her partner was away yesterday and so she asked what she should do? I asked the rest of the group to answer this question, and another band member said ‘just do what you like!’ In this way the band is acknowledging that music can be made in many different ways and we are not all following a fixed historical agenda of what a band is and how one should operate.

We also chatted about the fact that we may make something up in two seeks time (our last session preceding a little sharing/performance) and then immediately perform it and that music is not only good when it has been rehearsed over and over, but the immediacy of new music can also be exciting and have real value.

‘Lightbulbs’ only has six sessions in total planned, and it is now (after four) that we are just starting to understand one another. I think that if we existed for six months we could really have a musical and social impact on the members of the group, their friends and colleagues, the staff and any potential audiences.


Catch up: Hugh Nankivell, BSO Associate

In the last couple of weeks I have led three BSO Associate projects with three very different groups of people.  I was working in Bridport on a multi-national youth project called The Complete Freedom of Truth (TCFT) and spent the whole of one day with a group of motivated musical teenagers (‘Remix’) and their carers. I began the Torbay Family Orchestra (and we renamed ourselves the UFO – Unidentified Family Orchestra) at Torre Abbey and I also started a band at a local school in Torquay – open to all year 9’s – and 22 turned up and we had an hour making new music together.

For all of these settings the main aim was to make new music together. I did not arrive with a set of repertoire pieces that we would play (which is the usual starting point for most orchestras), or even a set of fixed warm-up games and exercises. Instead I arrive with a list of potential starting points, a head full of games and exercises that I have used before and could use again, a history of experience in working in this way and a willingness to ‘play’ music and to see where this leads. I arrive without any preconceived notion of where we might end up at the end of the sessions. (As an example – at the UFO session I arrived with a sheet with twelve potential starting points on it – some discussions, others games, others musical structures – and we used only three of them in the three hours, and one of those ideas took us on a journey for 90 minutes and another was a two minute discussion!)

This approach does have a structure, which I increasngly use and is tri-partite.

1) Provocation
2) Exploration
3) Sharing

It begins with a provocation. What might this provocation be? A question, a rhythm, an idea, an instrument, a way of playing, a title? We then explore ideas that emerge from this provocation in many different ways through playing and experimenting, listening and laughing. I might be constantly required to guide these explorations, or the groups might prefer to go off researching and burrowing without me. Finally we share the work that has emerged, and we celebrate ourselves for having made it.

In each setting we made music very quickly and successfully and this surprised all of the groups. It motivated them to want to continue and return and develop their ideas, skills and musical playing. It seems to me that this workshop approach to making music, whereby the leader arrives with a starting point and an open mind and follows what emerges, must be the way forward. The journey I have begun with each of these groups is similar and the BSO Associate model allows me this space and opportunity and for this I am very grateful and excited to see where it goes.