Music for Life is a pioneering programme for people living with dementia and their families, friends and carers
Founded by Linda Rose in 1993 and led by Wigmore Hall since 2009, over the course of the years the programme has continued to develop from working primarily in care settings to incorporating a growing number of projects and events in community settings and at the Hall itself. We are proud to work in partnership with a range of organisations to provide meaningful opportunities for people at all stages of dementia.
Due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Music for Life is now taking place remotely. To find out more about our activity during this time, see our recent news update. We our working towards phasing back to – and careful planning for – in-person activity when it is safe to do so.
Core Projects in Care Settings
The core projects in care settings remain at the heart of the programme, with the ethos and learning from each project continuing to inspire the programme as a whole. Each project provides a unique opportunity to explore new and creative ways of connecting and communicating.
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. Each project is supported by a Musician Facilitator who helps to ensure the smooth running of the project, with a particular focus on supporting the musician team, and a Training and Development Facilitator who supports the whole team, focusing primarily on staff development, and reflecting on the learning and the legacy of the project within the setting.
Each session is structured as follows:
Set-up meetings take place before each project to help the musicians and staff get to know each other and to talk about the project. During one of these meetings the Training and Development Facilitator supports care staff to identify the group of residents who will be invited to participate in the project.
The projects offer three interlinked strands of work:
Music for Thought
In partnership with Resonate Arts and the Royal Academy of Music, we run creative music-making projects for people who are living in their own homes but may be at risk of increased social isolation. Participants are recruited through Resonate Arts, who support people before, during and after each project. Participants are often new to dementia services, and the projects provide safe and relaxed environments in which people can take part in an activity in their local community, as well as providing links and pathways for participants to all the other opportunities that Music for Life has to offer.
The sessions are led by musicians from our Music for Life team alongside students from the Royal Academy of Music, developing the skills of the emerging workforce. Before the music session begins, participants are welcomed for tea and coffee, which encourages social interaction and provides a space for new friendships to form and develop. The sessions are responsive to each group, but typically include a combination of improvisation, exploration of instruments, performances of existing repertoire, lyric writing and singing. Projects often use a theme or topic for creative inspiration, with the sessions recorded in order to create a CD for participants to celebrate the pieces created together.
Music for the Moment
Music for the Moment is a monthly concert series set up by the Royal Academy of Music in partnership with Wigmore Hall, Resonate Arts and St Marylebone Parish Church. The concerts are free, include free refreshments, and are aimed at people living with dementia, their friends, families and carers. Julian West, Head of Open Academy, supports students from the Royal Academy of Music in devising these one-hour concerts, ensuring they are accessible for the audience. Staff and volunteers at both venues (St Marylebone Church and Wigmore Hall) aim to create a relaxed and welcoming environment, and people are welcome to come and go as they wish.
Singing with Friends
In 2017 we launched our first choir for families living with dementia in partnership with Resonate Arts: Singing with Friends.
The group meets weekly and together chose the name Singing with Friends, which captures the essence of the sessions perfectly. Sessions are led in a responsive, person-centred way, working in the moment to connect and communicate through singing.
Family members, friends, carers, artists and people living with dementia are all members of the choir equally, with each voice and personality contributing to the dynamic and spirit of the group as a whole. Each session includes plenty of time to socialise and connect with others in the group. There is a strong focus on vocal production and technique and the choir explore an ambitious range of repertoire, from sea shanties to opera.
Singing with Friends give a performance on the Wigmore Hall stage three times each year, and have shared many other musical successes together including taking part in a recording for BBC Radio 3, featuring in an article for The Telegraph, being selected as a finalist for a Dementia Care Award in the Outstanding Arts and Creativity in Dementia Care category, and performing at Buckingham Palace.
“It widens the horizons of my life. It gives me a lot of happiness and it keeps me going.”
“I feel there is something very, very good about it and that it’s nice to be alive here.”
“The audience’s standing ovation made me so happy to hear they enjoyed it.”
“Something very good about it, meeting friends we are getting to know.”
“It’s terrific fun when you can sing your heart out. It’s joyous.”
“I’ve never sung in public before and I’m loving it.”
“Wow! I’ve never sung on a stage before.”
“It’s wonderful. It cheers us up.”
“Music is my medicine.”
Music for Life: Monthly Sessions
We are delighted to be leading an ongoing series of monthly creative music-making sessions for people with young onset dementia as well as their families, friends and carers.
The sessions provide an open space for everyone to contribute in whatever way feels authentic. Together we make music that reflects us as a group, getting to know each other and finding ways to express ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, ideas and those of each other, through music.
Music for Life: Residency
Learning from our innovative Partner Schools Programme, over the past two years we have developed a residency in one care setting, in partnership with Jewish Care. The activity has been shaped in response to staff, residents and their families, and has included weekly choir sessions for residents and family members, relaxed concerts, staff singing sessions, one to one visits with musicians and residents, and improvisation sessions.
This responsive and in-depth approach has enabled meaningful relationships to form over time between musicians, staff and residents. Together we have created space for shared experiences and for all those involved to learn more about one another, communicate in new ways, and form deeper connections.
In a reflection session, care staff commented on the impact of the 1:1 musician visits on a particular resident:
“Luke has made a big difference with Elsie* - she has opened up and will be kind to you. To start with Luke would play and Elsie would talk over, but now she talks in the present, she is in the here and now.”
Music for Life is supported by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust (BBT), which funds outstanding young musicians (BBT Artists) and awards grants to charitable organisations that help the underprivileged and disadvantaged through music (BBT Communities). Whether developing and sustaining young artists’ international careers, or bringing the joy of music to new communities, the Trust provides invaluable assistance and encouragement.
In July 2019 our Learning Director, Daisy Swift, was invited to give a talk on the power of creativity for people living with dementia, for Tessitura Network’s Innovator Series, as part of the Tessitura Learning and Community Conference in Chicago. You can watch a film of her talk here:
Wigmore Hall is committed to playing its part in building a dementia-friendly society, and we are proud to have 2 Dementia Friends Champions on our staff team, and to have trained 55 Dementia Friends (members of our staff team and musicians).
In 2019 Wigmore Hall staff formed a new access and inclusion group to create a space in which we can regularly review how to make our environment, facilities and programming more accessible to people living with dementia.
Please support the work of Music for Life to ensure that we can continue to reach people living with dementia and their carers. Donations of any size make such a valuable difference. Whatever you feel able to give is enormously appreciated.