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 musician Amy May about her experiences this week on the project…
The morning begins with our customary catch up. Tea drinking forms the backbone of the residents’ daily lives, so of course we knuckle down and join in with vigorous consumption of cuppas and cake (it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it). This week Lucy has brought in an ingenious contraption, a small plastic block which records 20 second bursts of sound. We discuss its potential application, along with our other ideas, concepts and thoughts from the week, from the practical ‘what shall we do today?’ to the nature of ephemerality and whether or not it is important to remember and record the work we do with the residents. Along with the continuing development of our research at Aspen Court, each of us finds ourselves questioning our own art practice, stimulated by the residents’ own creative processes. It’s a fascinating journey and is so useful to swap ideas and thoughts with every week that passes.
We begin our work in one of the communal lounges. This week Julian and I have decided to go ‘back to basics’, performing Mozart duos for the residents. In previous weeks our work has focussed on being interactive with the residents, so it’s the first time we’re performing for, rather than with, our new friends. As we play Clare dances gracefully in the centre of the room, responding to the mood of each piece. The response is extraordinary. Iris declares that the music makes her feel free and boundless. Other residents dance and sway, sing and shout, moving their hands in time with the music, some staring enraptured and trance-like into the distance. I experience a particularly moving moment of eye contact with a non-verbal resident, who engages powerfully with me as I play some solo Bach next to her. And a further surprise awaits us – as we leave the lounge we catch a powerful baritone voice, singing a rich rendition of La Paloma – as we move down the corridor to track down the source, we find Paul in his room, singing to himself, with an incredible and soulful voice. Our Mozart duos suddenly seem very flimsy in comparison!
The second half of our morning is spent improvising with a small group of residents. We have with us a selection of simple but beautiful instruments – chimes, an autoharp, a ukulele, a glockenspiel and some Indian dancing bells. As a group we explore the sounds that they make together. We begin with an upbeat, percussive piece with a folky undertone. Oliver is particularly good at keeping the group in time (in a previous week we found out that when he was a boy he aspired to be a drummer). Then the mood of the music changes. Soon a beautiful, minimal piece is being created as the residents explore the chimes, while Mary plays soft notes on the ukulele. She begins to sing, at first so quietly that it is almost inaudible. But as she increases in confidence her words ring out and blend beautifully with the tinkling harmonies of the chimes. She teaches the rest of the room the song, and we all join in with her as the music undulates and develops. Later on Nicole, one of the care home’s activity assistants, remarks that she had not known that Mary is in any way religious until our session. “Now Mary wants to teach me more hymns”, she says. “It’s as if the music was unlocking a part of her. Now I can find out where she went to church and maybe see if she’d like to join in with a service”. It’s so exciting to have been a small part of that moment, where someone’s passion and faith has been revealed.
We leave with Mary’s hymn ringing in our ears… “We will make a way….”. A fitting end to another wonderful morning.
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.