Hermione Jones is a Programme Manager for Music for Life at Wigmore Hall, bringing together professional musicians, care staff and people living with dementia through interactive music sessions.

For more than 20 years Wigmore Hall Learning has been giving people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities opportunities to take part in creative music making, engaging a broad and diverse range of people through innovative creative projects, concerts, workshops and online resources.

As an organisation we are passionate about the impact music can have on our lives and on our society, and three core values lie at the heart of our work: creativity, collaboration and equality. These are values which reflect the spirit of chamber music, and this inspires all that we do: making music together as an ensemble, with every voice heard and equally valued.

Music for Life is our pioneering programme for people living with dementia and their families, friends and carers. Founded by Linda Rose in 1993 the programme has developed from working primarily in care settings to incorporating a growing number and wide range of projects and events in community settings.

Each project provides a unique opportunity to learn from one another and find new ways of connecting and communicating. I’ve witnessed some breath-taking musical conversations, and the real beauty is that it would be impossible to recreate them.

We are delighted to have launched our first Music for Life project alongside people living with young onset dementia and their families, friends and carers. Initially started as a pilot project in partnership with Dementia Pathfinders, it proved so successful that it’s now a regular monthly event and an essential strand of our work alongside families living with dementia.’

Hermione Jones, Programme Manager: Music for Life

 

What happens during a Music for Life project?

Over the course of 8 weeks, a team of 3 professional musicians work alongside 8 people living with dementia and 5 members of care staff to improvise music together. The programme manager attends and observes each session along with a dementia facilitator who supports the staff development, reflecting on the learning and the legacy of the project within the setting.

Each session is structured as follows:

  • 1 hour set-up and planning time for project musicians.
  • 1 hour music session for people living with dementia and care staff (the same group each week).
  • 1 hour of reflective debrief for project musicians and care staff facilitated by the programme manager and dementia facilitator.

What do participants say about it?

‘My husband Paul and I attend Music for Life for people living with Young Onset Dementia.

Paul has always loved music and before his diagnosis played guitar and composed. He can no longer write or play his guitar, but Music for Life has given him back the ability to once again compose music and play various percussion instruments.

The joy, pleasure and satisfaction that Paul gets from Music for Life is immeasurable and it is clear to see when he is immersed in making music with the professional musicians from Wigmore Hall.

For the whole hour it doesn’t matter that Paul can no longer write, talk or play his guitar, he is transported back to a time when his music was everything.’

Elaine Eager (wife and carer of Paul, living with Young Onset Dementia)

 

How do dementia professionals respond to it?

‘Although I love music, I have never considered myself to be ‘musical.’ so when we launched the Music For Life project for people living with young onset dementia and their families and friends, and I was asked to play a musical instrument (so that family carers could take a break)  I was terrified! what if I messed it up?

But the eight-week project was a real eye opener. It proved that anyone can join in and have fun and express themselves through music whether they have previous musical experience or not. I felt supported by everyone in the group and better able to understand the fears that carers face at the start of the project, when they realise they will making music too.

It was so good to see families who are losing the opportunities for communication, able to converse through music. Relationships that have been changed and damaged by dementia, flourishing through musical interactions. Families and people living with dementia have fun with professional musicians, we are all having fun.  I consider it a privilege to be part of it.’

Sylvia Cowleard, Beeches Training (dementia facilitator)

 

Making music at home

If you are unable to attend a music session you could make music together at home, you don’t need expensive instruments, maybe a tambourine, a couple of shakers and – a real favourite – the ocean drum.* This is a small instrument which can be held and hit like a drum but is filled with ball bearings and can be moved to make the sound of waves rushing to shore, the bonus is you can watch the ball bearings moving inside the drum.

Recently, one of the musicians was supporting a lady living with dementia who had the ocean drum in her lap. They made some wonderful music together, with the musician telling her, “I will wait for your next ‘wave’ before I play.” This was met with a huge smile and a carefully placed wave hitting the shore.

2 tips for family carers

  1. Don’t rush. When making music together allow enough time for your loved one with dementia to respond. It’s important to give a person time to process what is happening and to respond in whatever way they decide. This allows them to express their thoughts and feelings.
  2. Remember, there is no ‘right’ way to respond. For example, if a person stops banging the Djembe drum and starts caressing it, this doesn’t mean they don’t know how to play it any more, they are simply expressing a different feeling. It is wonderful to watch people exploring instruments and finding a ‘different’ way to play them.

The young onset dementia music sessions are held once a month, the last Monday in the month at 2pm at Hillside Church in Wimbledon. Attendance is free but booking is required. To book a place or if you would like to know more about booking a project for a care setting please contact Hermione:  email hjones@wigmore-hall.org.uk or telephone 020 7258 8246

*Amazon sells the Andoer® Ocean Wave Bead Drum Gentle Sea Sound Musical Instrument for £7.98.

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