improvised songs as interaction

Very successful morning at stocksbridge brain injury unit.  I am using more and more improvised song making with more able clients and this is proving to be a very enjoyable technique for enjoyable and meaningful two way interactions.  One resident talked about his old Mercedes convertible and how he would drive with the roof down to a hotel in Bowness by Windermere.  He talked about a wonderful hotel and ow the “little things make something really special”. This last statement became the chorus and soon he was describing the other special things he had seen like going down the winding side roads, seeing the lambs giving birth, hiring out a motorboat and feeding the ducks.  He really enjoyed the session and found it “ever so relaxing”

Music is a way for people to be together

I have recently been commissioned by the Older Peoples Arts Forum to deliver a series of music and storytelling sessions in residential care homes. Today I have delivered a training session for the activity co-ordinators from the homes that will be involved. We sang familiar songs and I told one of my favourite folk tales before introducing some hand chimes and making music together. We had a lot of fun – here are some of the comments:

“I found the workshop very enjoyable although singing is way outside my comfort zone. Your enthusiasm was catching and at no time did I feel under pressure. The direction was excellent and effortless and lots of fun. Thank you”

“Really enjoyed the session, you have a lovely relaxed way about you which puts people at ease. I also like the person centred approach you have, it creates something special.”

“I found session very interesting and fun. Residents will love it.”

Songmaking for people with an acquired brain injury

Just back from my session at Stocksbridge Neuro Rehabilitation centre where I spent some enjoyable time making up songs with residents. The first resident I worked with had spent the last 18 months moving from institution to institution. He was able to speak fluently and suffered from paralysis down the left hand side of his body. This was the first time I had met him and understandably he was a bit depressed about his situation. I began by asking what music he liked and I was soon playing some flamenco on my baritone ukulele much to his amusement. This broke the ice and I sang a couple of jazz standards before he offered me a cup of tea. I asked if they make good tea here and he said they do to which I replied that I everything feels a little bit better with a nice cup of tea. This became the first line of the song and later lines resulted from our banter about tea making. The resident joined in singing and p;ling along on the tambourine and by the end of the session the resident seems visibly relaxed and happier. We discussed how during the music making we had forgotten about the past and the future and we felt better for this. I explained that I might sing the song we had made up with other people who are suffering and it might bring them some relief too. The resident was very happy with this outcome and invited me to return next time. The session ended at a natural point and I moved on.

The second resident that I spent time with this week was initially quite unresponsive when I introduced songs that he had previously enjoyed such as “you are my sunshine” and “she’ll be coming round the mountain”. After one song he began to tell me about his stamp book and the 2 stamps that he needs to complete it. I began to sing about this and his enthusiasm for this was immediately evident. We continued to sing for over 10m, inventing new verses and returning to a wonderful call and response chorus.

For me both these situations were very successful because I improvised using the immediate environment. In the first situation, in the absence of a clear starting point, I provided the initial stimulus by asking of the persons favourite music. From then my approach is to reciprocate what was given back to me beginning with flamenco and then making up a song about tea when I was offered a cup. The result of this is, in my subjective observation, clear and meaningful two way communication. In the second example the song was the response to a story told to me and the immediacy of this increased the likelihood that it would be of interest to the resident.

To engage with a person musically the material must be of interest to the participant. We can of course draw on our repertoire to find the songs that a person likes – another method is to involve the immediate interests and environment to improvise material that is truly person centered.

Seminar at Royal Calderdale Hospital

Today Lee Sass and I travelled up to Royal Calderdale Hospital in Halifax to deliver a seminar to staff working in the acute mental health wards. We delivered the work alongside Dr Richard Coaten, Dance and Movement Psychotherapist, and the session was very well received. We talked about the importance of collaboration between nursing staff and artists and we discussed the specialist skills of an artist and the benefits of employing an artist within a residential care setting. We also introduced the concept of communities of practice as an approach to developing a sustainable practice. Feedback from the session follows:

“Fantastic session, made me feel passionate about providing use of arts in my practice and on the ward I work on. I always believe there is more that medication, we are all pieces of a jigsaw in somebodies recovery. Art expression and creativity is key in this!”

Katy Hodgson, Occupational Therapist

“I now feel empowered to use the arts and will suggest using arts in the recovery for service users”

Judith Bagnall, Support time recovery worker

“Great use of activity to clearly demonstrate the meaning/importance of arts in health”

Richard Bates, Occupational Therapist