We are so lucky that at Musical Moments we get to see the best of everyone. As part of our job, we go in to care homes for a session which lasts an hour, delivering a combination of music based activities, including singing, playing instruments, chair based exercise, sensory activities with props, reminiscence and relaxation. For that small hour, we generally see a whirlwind of positive emotions and moments, all from being stimulated by music.
We usually work with groups, as our activities are group based. However, we sometimes take one-to-one requests. A session that I delivered recently was at a care home in my local town. The lovely activity co-ordinator had everyone ready by the time I'd arrived and took me to one side before I started. 'There was a lady who really wanted to come down today', she told me. 'But she really struggles with sensory overload and can sometimes get very upset and frustrated when moving rooms or going from resting to activity. She was ready to come down for the activity with you but unfortunately at the last minute became overwhelmed and didn't want to come to the group. Would you mind just nipping in at the end to sing for her?'
At Musical Moments, we are very much about giving our clients that 'personal touch' - as our job description is 'community musician' we strive to make sure we are always giving a sense of community spirit and strengthening relationships with people that need them the most. My answer to the activity co-ordinator was of course 'yes'. I delivered my group session as usual, then afterwards, she took me to the resident's room down the hall.
Mary* was in bed and looked a little confused. 'Hello Mary, I've brought Beckie with me today, she's come to play the violin for you'. Mary seemed to acknowledge that I'd entered the room, and nervously started a conversation with me, only for me to find that her words were not always in the right order, or the right ones, making it a little tricky to understand what she was saying. Nevertheless, I responded with 'it's lovely to meet you today Mary, what a lovely day we've had, I hope that you like music? As I've brought my violin with me today to play you some music'.
I set up my small speaker to play a gentle backing track underneath my violin, when I spotted a poster for 'IRELAND' on the wall. Before I started, I asked Mary and activity co-ordinator, 'Is Mary from Ireland by any chance?' Mary was from Ireland and when I asked that she began to respond again with some incoherent words and phrases, but this time I definitely heard the Irish accent clearly.
I decided to improvise - which is something as a community musician, you do have to do quite often! I knew a couple of Irish songs from memory. Switched off my speaker and played 'Danny Boy' accapella on the violin. Mary watched intently. I had her full attention and her eyes lit up. After finishing the piece, I played a short and lively Irish Jig. Mary didn't say anything, but I had very clear eye contact throughout and she was extremely engaged from the music.
When I finished playing, the activity co-ordinator gave a little round of applause and said how much they had both enjoyed the music. She also asked, 'Beckie would you mind if I got a quick picture of you and Mary with your violin, just to show her family, as they will be so pleased to see that she's had some music'. Of course I agreed and knelt down next to Mary's bed to pose for the photo. After taking the photo on the iPad, she turned it around to show us. Mary said, loud and clearly - 'oh, what a beautiful photograph. I'd like to have that framed on my wall'.
And that is the power of music.
* Name has been changed