LivingArts: Update 3

LivingArts is a new project which re-imagines care homes as arts centres, through an eight-week residence in Aspen Court Care Home working with musicians. Each week we will be hearing from someone working on the project. This week we hear from one of our Trainee Music Leaders, Tim Cape, and what he has experienced so far…

Today is Today.

Coming in the door of Aspen Court this Wednesday morning I bumped into Oliver in the corridor. He was deep in conversation with one of the staff. We said a brief hello. Last week we were both deeply embedded in a repeated groove on the hand chimes, one of the highlights of the session. Did he remember that? Did he remember me? I’m not sure it matters. It reminded me before the session began that this project is a learning curve on how to commit to the moment, embrace it, and not give so much importance to memory.

In this week’s morning discussion we talked about last week, and about the idea of helping the residents create a ‘festival of themselves’. Lucy talked about embracing the fragmented nature of things, not constantly trying to make sense of the whole. The previous week she had been using a typewriter to capture fragments of conversations, moments, half sentences. This seemed like a very honest reflection of the mode of interaction we had in the room. Always moving, never still. Beginning something before the end of something else. It made me think of my improvisation with Clara the week before, which was the epitome of fragmented-ness. It was all half sentences, bits of memories, half-finished rhythms from me on my Cajon, short bursts of comic vocal sounds from her. We managed to create a social meaning, a musical meaning, out of fragments of language which usually we would attempt to put together into a whole, to search for the meaning. We found all the intensity and dynamics of a good conversation without a clear idea of what we were talking about. It felt liberating and fulfilling to be released from the confines of trying to make sense. And yet it made so much sense.

IMG_2065Another instance of music creating sense or meaning of its own unfolded in our session this week in the activities room. We had an intimate session with Betty and Freda. I came into the room to see Freda with a glockenspiel on her lap, improvising with Amy who was playing viola. I was struck with the variety of playing techniques Freda was inventing – long glissandos the length of the instrument, tapping the plastic screws rather than the keys, everything was playful and explorative. I noticed she was talking almost constantly as she was playing. Again, it was music on the edge of conversation. Music as conversation, as communication, as language. Freda would begin a sentence at the bottom of the glockenspiel, and mark the important words or contour of her sentence by playing ascending notes while talking, until she came to the end of the glock, which meant she had made her point. The musical logic of an ascending scale, the visual structure of the instrument, provided a structure for her expression through language. On her way out, she seemed in high spirits, dancing her way to the door with Clare.

In the upstairs level this week we invited some residents into one of the quieter rooms for a session. Preya decided to leave immediately, Chris fell asleep, and so we were left to share the session with Cynthia only. The journey with Cynthia was a long and deep one, initially playful and direct, later intense and distressed. She often told us to ‘shut your noise’ (this is always a positive response I feel, it shows direct engagement, a creative choice) or to play something ‘more jazzy’. She said it was her birthday and that it was Christmas, so our piece became a gift for her. She became uneasy, distressed, her repeated refrain was ‘Oh help me please help me I do pray’. This was difficult, and I felt in a familiar uneasy situation I have felt a few times on this project – how to judge when it’s best to leave, to stop, how to decipher when tension is positive or negative. Julian spoke of this later – he mentioned that tension when you’re holding a rope means that there is definitely someone at the other end, and that they’re engaged. And Cynthia was engaged, replying, listening. We created a hymn for her with the hand chimes, using her own words, trying to be comforting. At one moment she took Julian’s hand, it was too cold, so she let it go. But then she said “ I should have held it to warm it up” so Julian gave his hand again, this time she warmed his hand up, the physical presence was soothing. Our hymn turned into one of thanks. This was a turning point – the fact that Cynthia could give something rather than being a passive recipient. The session closed with a funny incident where Cynthia needed her back scratched – Debra helped her out and said ‘later you can scratch mine’ to which Cynthia replied that we were ‘crafty’. The intense, emotional session suddenly had a sense of lightness and we waved goodbye.

Follow the blog for regular updates from members of the team as we move towards our festival day on Wednesday 6 April. For more information about the LivingArts project visit our website

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

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