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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Keen

Co-exisiting but completely removed

Musician: Nat Keen (guitar, vocals and autoharp)

The cold weather is here and as I make my weekly bicycle commute from South London, I notice an array of people going about their daily business. Grumpy and shivering faces at a Camberwell bus stop, a flock of cackling school kids on a trip across Blackfriars bridge, smart looking power couples in the city supping on takeaway coffees and a desperate looking homeless man sat in a sleeping bag on City Road. That is London for me, all walks of life simultaneously co-existing but often completely removed from each other.

The special thing about working at Bridgeside Lodge is having the opportunity to interact with people who, in all likelihood I wouldn't normally be sharing much time with. For those residents without visiting friends or family, our sessions provide not only a musical experience but the chance to talk about everyday life and connect to wider society.

Resident DW is one such resident who enjoys our visits. Our time is often filled with wandering chats interspersed with, or accompanied by music. Today we got onto singing some Frank Sinatra and chatting about London in the swinging 60's, notably his various adventures piling into the back of a jazz musician's van to watch some gigs. After some more talk about his wife's beautiful pottery work and some more music I moved on to see some more people.

As I left DW’s room, I could hear a man next door intermittently crying out or groaning without words, I'd heard this sound before and wondered whether I could try to reach him with music. I wasn't sure about entering his room so I stood by the entrance hoping that the sound of my guitar would reach him as I tried to mirror the loose, spacious rhythm of his vocalisations. Although impossible to truly know if he was aware, my feeling was that the length of silences between each of his sounds had elongated. Perhaps he was, in fact listening.

Sometimes it's challenging to meet the expectations of family members who understandably want a musical experience for their loved ones as often as possible. To share my time evenly between the residents who benefit from music isn't always possible but we do try and reach as many people as possible. Today I honoured a request to visit KN from her sister. I found them both in K's room and she seemed a little unsettled and nervous. After admiring some beautiful and colourful knit work I began to play some calming music for her, very soon her movements slowed and she made her way over to the bed supported by her sister. Together the two of them sat there in an embrace as K's eyes began to grow heavy and she drifted off into a deep slumber which seemed like a moment of relief for both of them.

I finished the day by seeing JB and her husband, I had visited a month ago and had captured a beautiful moment on film in which I'd presented the strings of the guitar to her and she had explored by plucking each one, savouring the sound and the agency she was afforded in doing so. This week I decided to bring her the Bridgeside Lodge auto harp (kindly donated by the family of KN), this instrument seemed accessible and perfect as it could easily lay on the lap or body of somebody laying in a bed and produce magical sounds. As you can see in the video below, JB seemed enthralled by the sound she could create for herself!

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