G7 chords are “robust and regal”
Musician: Kate Millett (ukulele & voice)
Today’s visit to Bridgeside Lodge was experimental. I wanted to see how residents responded to and connected with the bare bones of music. We collaborated with musical exercises: call and response, harmonisation, and pitch recognition. These exercises are explained below, focusing on my visits to two particular residents: E.J and G.H.
Part of the therapeutic value of music lies in its power to touch people individually, on a personal level. On Monday, musicians Alice Zawadzki and Ben Hazleton talked to resident E.J about the moods of different keys and the feelings they evoke. Her musical ear combined with her love of language (E.J enjoys reading and writing poetry) made for fascinating answers. I wanted to follow on from that and see where it might take us. Instead of changing the key of a piece, I played a series of stand-alone chords. I asked E.J if she could put words to each chord and describe how they made her feel. Perhaps remembering Monday’s sessions, E.J confidently and thoughtfully responded to each chord:
A quick explainer for those not familiar with the construction of musical chords:
Major chords are made up of 3 notes and sound happy.
Minor chords are made up of 3 notes and sound sad.
7th (or dominant 7th) chords are made up of a major chord with a 4th note added.
They can sound tense and unstable.
Minor7 chords - a minor chord with a 4th note added. They tend to sound melancholy.
EJ's descriptions of the chords presented to her were more poetic:
C major was “clear and bright, like early morning light.”
D minor was “meaty but perhaps unsure of itself.”
G7 was “robust and regal” and reminded E.J of her father. This was particularly interesting as earlier in the session I had sung one of E.J’s favourites “Danny Boy”, which starts with a G7 chord. I mentioned this to her and she said her Dad used to sing Danny Boy to her as a child.
Each chord had a personality and a story to tell. So we began weaving a tale. With each chord change, E.J and I added to our story, letting the chords guide our imaginations:
A minor - E.J: “We are in a bare room, but it isn’t cold.”
F major - “A window has been thrown open, and I can hear the sounds of a street below, busy with life.”
Aminor7 - “I think that’s the sound of guests arriving to join us.”
C7 - “This sounds like something new, a bright idea. Perhaps someone has had an idea.”
Bb major: “The weather is changing.”
E.J is always very precise with the words she chooses. She said that was probably because she used to study and teach medieval poetry. This was something we didn’t know about E.J's past. It seemed the exercises had reminded her of this part of her life, triggering memories.
Moving on to resident G.H, chord description was trickier as she doesn’t have all her words. Instead, I asked her if she thought a chord sounded happy or sad. This exercise didn’t really take off though. With inspiring optimism, she shouted “Happy” after every single chord! G.H loves to sing, so we tried a different exercise: pitch recognition and harmonisation. I sang a short passage and she repeated, pitch perfect. We then tried harmonising. G.H loves to sing long, sustained notes, so I held the lowest note of an arpeggio [the notes of a chord played in sequence, rather than simultaneously], while she continued with the ascending notes.
G.H has a strong contralto voice which we are always impressed with, so I asked her if she wanted a singing lesson. She was thrilled and sat up straight in her bed. We did some vocal warm up exercises and then I taught her how to support her voice while singing with some diaphragmatic breathing techniques.
Both residents enjoyed our musical exercises, after this experimental session there is a lot to work with!