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  • Writer's pictureKat Eaton

As full of spirit as the month of May (Part 3)

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Musicians: Kat Eaton (vocals) Pete Lee (piano)

Today’s session started with a fire alarm and it wasn’t a drill! All the fire doors closed on cue and Pete and I were ushered outside. Once the alarm had stopped and Fatma had worked out what the cause of the commotion was (the spray from an aerosol can) we went back inside to await the result of our lateral flow tests. Resident JBL’s fiancé Matt joined us as well as SA’s art therapist Zoe.

Zoe has been working with SA for 11 years and had met her before she developed dementia, at a community centre where Zoe was providing art therapy for people with special needs. Zoe told us about SA’s story. Being a child of the 70s with special educational needs, it was harder for her to be accepted into society than it would be now. SA’s brother, who accompanied her at the community centre, told Zoe that SA spent a lot of time in her room listening to Capitol FM. Music became a great companion for SA in her early years and as her dementia has developed Zoe has been eager to try and remind her of this. Naturally we wanted to try and help aid her memory as well but we were also a bit apprehensive after our last encounter with SA, during which she slid off her chair and became distressed. I wondered whether live music might trigger a negative emotion in her so we decided to play to JBL next door first and keep both doors open so SA could get used to the sound of the music.

We played Dancing Queen by Abba for JBL who giggled every time we giggled when Pete animatedly played the riff. It felt good to be connected to her in this way and I think she enjoyed the connection too. We then played Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye followed by a sprinkling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which segued into Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but as we started the verse JBL fell asleep so we came to a natural close. As we tried to quietly pack down the piano she opened her eyes so we continued playing very quietly, with me almost whispering the melody. Once she’d shut her eyes again for the second time we snuck out so she could dose in peace and went into SA’s room next door.

She was drawing with Zoe when we entered and Zoe told us that they’d been listening to the music through the open door. Once Pete and I had introduced ourselves we complimented SA on her beautifully expressive abstract art proudly hung up on every inch of every wall. Together we thought about what might have been on the radio in the 70s and Zoe remembered “I know she loves Abba”. So, sensing the atmosphere was slightly different in this room, we launched into a more upbeat version of Dancing Queen and I danced trying to catch SA’s eye. She was seemingly unengaged with the music, which makes perfect sense as she was engrossed in her drawing. But then we played Waterloo and she looked up, started giggling and moving her legs in time with the music. Money Money Money went down a treat, especially when Pete played the riff with a fabulous flourish, which we all found very amusing. Again, as with JBL, when Pete and I giggled SA giggled as well and we shared a meeting of the minds. When we were leaving the room we spoke to Zoe about how SA seemed to engage more with the fun, up-beat songs that collectively we could mess around with and not take too seriously. The joy of being silly is something we all need a bit more of at the moment, especially in environments such as this. Pete and I are only too happy to provide a little silliness if it leads to an abundance of joy.

Upstairs we bumped into JS who told us that he used to be in a church choir so Pete had the great idea of playing How Great Thou Art. Although JS didn’t recognise the song he was keen to find a song that we could all sing together. We tried Shine Jesus Shine and then some Sinatra, neither of which he recognised. At that point his body language changed as he backed out of the room saying “I’m sorry I’ll have to back out. I don’t have the same ability as you two.” We reassured him that it doesn’t matter about ability, it’s just about making music together and he warmed to the idea, re-entering the room. We started playing Amazing Grace and JS instantly recognised it and started singing along. Sensing that he didn’t remember the lyrics we adapted our singing and joined him singing “ahh”. We were surprised to hear JS join us as we modulated up a semitone and then another semi tone! His body language changed as he became more comfortable with singing with us and he visibly relaxed as he leaned on the wall. Afterwards he felt confident enough to ask us to get in touch if we were putting a choir together and we said of course we would.

SW, who we met in the hall-way, ushered us into her room keen to hear some live music. She was very chatty and told us all about music that she loves and she gave us some great and obscure requests like Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison and Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie by Abba (yet more Abba – must be the Abba Voyage tour in the air!) and Delilah by Tom Jones, which we really enjoyed busking. Knowing that SW loves Elvis we asked her for her favourite Elvis song. We sang Love Me Tender with SW reading the lyrics from my iPad. Pete is such a talented and versatile musician being able to play songs he’s never played before, off the cuff in such an intimate setting. I must admit I’m quite in awe of him. I was so in awe and so distracted by all these new requests and all the fun we were having that I entirely forgot to do some Shakespeare! But it’s more important to be present and really listen to what the residents of Bridgeside want from us, rather than pushing our agenda.

We left SW’s room in high spirits and as we were about to go to the floor below a nurse asked us if we might be able to play for JB. This was the first time that Pete and I had met JB and her partner. JB had a stroke 6 years ago and she came to Bridgeside Lodge a year after that. After speaking to her partner about what music he thought she’d like to hear we decided to play some jazz. We played Smile by Charlie Chaplin first which she seemed to enjoy as she gave us a thumbs up and a smile. Afterwards Pete and I reflected that this song, although it went down well and sounds beautiful and uplifting, is actually quite melancholic when you focus on the lyrics and could potentially be quite triggering if the resident were to consider their situation. Sometimes these bittersweet, wistful songs are actually quite comforting to hear during hardship and easier to relate to than a happy song. Regardless, we made a note to be careful about which songs to choose and to make sure that their lyric content was appropriate for different residents in different situations.

Sensing that the mood could be lifted we played Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares for Me. JB happily clapped in time and gave us a big smile, saying “thank-you” as we left the room.

Another productive session at Bridgeside Lodge where we found ourselves in the moment and remained there, forgetting the outside world. We had a lot of laughs, played some fun songs and on departure wondered “Wherefore art thou Shakespeare…?!”

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