WELCOME TO OUR BLOG 'SPITZ STORIES'
Our events, quotes from residents*, and heart-warming tales from Bridgeside Lodge
*Residents names have been changed to initials to ensure safeguarding and anonymity.
29th December 2020:
Guest blog written by Alice Zawadzki
Musicians: Alice Zawadzki (Voice, violin) Ben Hazleton (Double Bass)
It was a particularly cold snap at the end of December when I arrived at Bridgeside Lodge with double bassist Ben Hazleton. Whilst waiting for our Covid test results, (we’re now having lateral flow tests on arrival on every visit to BSL) we decided to put our time to good use by playing some jigs and reels outside in the garden, which, as well as being in earshot of many of the residents' bedrooms, looks out onto the lock and the canal walkways surrounding it.
Upon enquiring what he had for us today, he replied: blues, jazz, festive classics, a smouldering Tunisian dance and some Elizabethan songs.
Excellent, I thought, he's as weird as me.
We practiced a bunch of joyful uplifting jigs and reels - Over the Ocean, Paddy's Leather Britches, Soldier's Joy, and many more, with the water and stonework merrily bouncing the sound of our instruments far and wide. There were waves and smiling faces from across the canal from the occasional passerby. I had known of Ben for several years on the live music scene but had never had the pleasure of playing with him, and as I suspected, I was in for a treat. He is soulful, intuitive, playful, and makes a glorious, booming, velvet sound on his bass.
By the time the cold had rendered our fingers completely immovable, it was mercifully time to stop and go inside to get our results, happily negative. Leyla, perhaps the loveliest soul in the world, and one of the core members of staff, helped us with recording our results, and off we went, with the first stop being to resident EJ. She is one of the most kind and gentle people I have ever met and I've become increasingly fond of her and grateful for her sweet engagement of the music we bring to her each time. She knew the words and melodies to some of these niche Elizabethan songs, and we couldn't hide our happy astonishment as she sang along with us. The ravages of dementia or simply physical old age can make a person appear to fade, but moments like that remind me that every single one of the residents has a story to tell and a rich life story, full of loves, loss, intrigue, interests, and passions. EJ had tears in her eyes as we sang together, and it was a moment of connection that I will treasure. Leyla looks after EJ very intensively as she is liable to fall at any time. Leyla has been learning piano with Thom, a core Spitz staff member, and it made me smile to see that the electric keyboard she learns on is still in EJ's room. This is because EJ has a good ear and is able to give Leyla feedback about her playing. Not only is Leyla learning a skill that she has always wanted to explore, and developing an outlet of expression after an incredibly distressing year, but now some of the long hours of care within the same four walls can be happily passed in a creative way. Knowing that music is helping the smooth running of the home and the wellbeing of both staff and carers, gives us renewed energy and resolve.
Next we visited JC in his room, where he is currently bedbound. He is a delightful character. Inquisitive and with such glittering friendly eyes that if you allow yourself to stop for a moment, you could almost be looking at the face of a smiling teenager. He went to great pains to ask us if we had managed to have a semblance of a Christmas under the circumstances. I felt deeply grateful in that moment to be in the company of such a luminous and generous spirit. His knowing gaze makes you feel like there is nothing he cannot comprehend, nothing he hasn't seen. I often wonder what he has experienced in his 81 years. He has an acoustic guitar that he loves to strum along with us. Ben showed incredible skill and creativity by choosing to play in keys that would allow JC's open strings to sound consonant with whatever we were doing, as his fingers can no longer hold the frets. He sang along to a blues which we played, 'Hold It Right There', that I learned from my first musical mentor, the New Orleans jazz singer Lillian Bouttè. I always think of her when I sing this; of how she would include everyone in the room when she performed, how her love and joy was palpable and warm and real. Seeing JC smile as he sang made me feel like her spirit was there with us, united somehow by the joy of this blues tune. As we came to a close, he remarked - "we should've had the mics rolling!" I wish we had too.
Next we saw K who is often sitting in the armchairs by the lift. We sang an Irish ballad and he nodded along, smiling. He is always understated, a dignified and polite man, and always shows us appreciation. M made it very clear that she did NOT want to listen to any music. No performer likes to hear that of course but I'm genuinely glad that she voiced her desires and demonstrated her agency of acting upon them by getting up and leaving - so fair play, and more power to her! I hope that one day I will reach her age and have a similar attitude of just saying no to things I don't like 🙂 . Gradually, more people came into the space, and although we were strictly socially distanced, the party atmosphere was real, and Ben and I started to ramp up the tunes. J joined us, always drumming along with his hands on the chair or clapping, his enthusiasm is emboldening! M rather generously told me that I'm 'as good as Doris Day', which although I dispute, I will put 'in the bank' for the next time I feel low. (Thanks M xx) She talked about how much she enjoyed going to see shows in the West End as a treat when she was younger, and during our conversation her eyes lit up as she recalled the thrill of the music she loves.
H joined us - he is an amputee with only one leg after an accident many years ago. As Ben continued to build up the bassline and got into a deep and uplifting groove, H wheeled himself over towards us and called out over the music to say that if he had two legs he would've been up dancing too. G joined us, another resident who I've become incredibly fond of. Her eyes are sparkling and mischievous, and although her speech and mobility is now heavily impeded, her essential voice is still huge, lustrous, and resonant. She sings along with everything, sings from her very bones, and when the music begins, she becomes animated, moving her hands like a flamenco dancer. Ben and I saw how she was expressing herself this way, and somehow, without discussing it, arrived at a point where she was conducting us. Time seemed to stop in those minutes where she was able to control the sounds we made with her gestures, and the communication between the three of us was as clear as day. In that moment, it felt that we were her 'voice'... that she was able to speak through us. It's hard to explain what events like this feel like, but it is something to do with humanity. It lives in them. All of us - participants and onlookers, are humanized by the experience.
Shortly after, two of the amazing care staff joined us in dancing to Irish jigs - they held the hands of the residents and supported them physically so that they could dance. The energy of the staff at Bridgeside Lodge is humbling to witness - the way they dive into all aspects of the wellbeing of the residents is an inspiration. The teamwork we are building feels really good. We then finished with a joyous and inappropriately bombastic version of Auld Lang Syne, which everyone sung along to. Hilariously, no one knew all the words, embarrassingly including me and Ben, so we just la la la'd the bits we didn't know with gusto and laughed. Not a bad motto for aspects of these times we find ourselves in methinks. Thank you so much, Bridgeside Lodge and The Spitz. - AZ
16th December 2020: Spitz/ BSL Seasonal Party!
Indoor Musicians: Alice Zawadzki (Voice, violin/keyboard), Ben Hazleton (Double Bass), Kate Millett (Voice)
Outdoor Musician: Marcus Bonfanti (Guitar and Voice)
“I love every Christmas song. They make me feel like a girl again. I feel all warm inside now.” M BSL resident.
“Really enjoyed this evening. Thanks everyone for all the great experiences this year. Playing at Bridgeside has been a real highlight for me in what has been a pretty up and down year for everyone so thanks for giving me the opportunity to do something worthwhile with my time and music.” Marcus Bonfanti, Guitarist
Being able to celebrate the festive season at Bridgeside Lodge felt especially poignant this year. After getting our negative Covid test results, we were able to roam the corridors of the care home, playing music as the residents enjoyed refreshments in the dining rooms. Unlike last year, due to restrictions, the different floors were not allowed to mix. So instead, there were four, smaller and less rowdy parties for us to musically accompany! Golden festive hats were passed around, crackers were pulled, and both staff and residents got up to dance. Social distancing and PPE were strictly adhered to, but the afternoon was no less warm and festive as a result. Unfortunately, our usual photographer Hannah Lovell had to isolate after her flatmate tested positive. Thom rose to the occasion as ‘roaming photographer’, but it was still a harsh reminder of the bleak reality of the current climate for our team.
The dining rooms were the best place for us to perform, as most of the residents had come to enjoy the spread. We were greeted with enthusiasm on each floor and it was hard to leave each time. Everyone sang along, put in requests and enjoyed the parties. Alice sang pretty much anything from Irish jigs, seasonal songs, birthday wishes, and even an Italian love song; her voice lending itself beautifully to whatever was needed. A couple of residents weren’t well enough to leave their rooms, so we visited their bedsides. E.J was particularly thrilled to sing along to ‘Once in Royal David’s City.’ Although we knew that she’d sung in choirs most of her life, we were still blown away when she remembered the descant section in the final verse: “I sometimes forget the words, but that tune will never leave me. It’s lovely to hear it again.” While E.J and her carer Leyla read poetry aloud, Ben matched their rhythm with his bass, and I hummed Silent Night: “I really enjoyed that, it was so relaxing and soothing” said Leyla afterwards.
After their feast, many of the residents sat in their communal areas, facing the garden, to watch the fireworks display from the comfort of their armchairs (it was drizzling outside but that didn’t stop us!) Marcus had told us he was worried we were going to call and cancel his outdoor gig as a result of the rain, he had been looking forward to it! We all listened to him playing outside and admired the shapes and sparkles of the indoor sparklers. There was a feeling of community, love and friendship. All of us, bound by the trauma of 2020, celebrating and looking forward to a fresh New Year: “Thank you soooo much... just what we needed in this, our annus horribilis.”
Between festive songs, Marcus played classics like Bob Dylan and Bill WIthers. Many of the residents were very moved by his music, and closed their eyes to concentrate on the lyrics. A.K stayed until the very end. He even asked to delay his dinner so he could have a chat with Marcus. They discussed music legends, favourite songs, and famous guitar soloists. A.K’s musical knowledge impressed Marcus and the conversation was an obvious tonic for A.K: “I used to chat about this sort of stuff with my mates all the time...you’ve really made my day, that was magical.” To which Marcus replied: “Well, hearing you say that has made my year!” Throughout the afternoon lots of residents made comments like: “It now does feel like Christmas”, “You really have cheered me up”, and “I love it so much when you lot come here.”
14th December 2020
Musicians: Thom (Spitz) and Leyla (carer)
Today was our second piano lesson. I’d planned a few new things to show Leyla but she immediately took the lead and showed me what she’d been practicing since our last lesson. Danny Boy sounded brilliant. She had implemented everything I’d showed her, articulation and fingering and hitting all the right notes. She’s a natural. An even bigger joy was when she told me that she’d been practicing with (resident) EJ, who had been listening and giving advice and pointing out any errors. It’s so wonderful to imagine a resident giving her primary care-giver advice and constructive criticism as she learns an instrument for the first time. Really exciting.
We talked about using major and minor chords to harmonise the melody, and how these would be played in the left hand, while the right hand took the melody. It’s a real joy to see someone so keen to learn and improve and despite being a bit nervous, share their musical journey with someone for whose daily care and wellbeing they are responsible
Halfway through our 45 minute lesson, we were joined (or should that be gatecrashed!) by another carer, Mo, who wanted to know when she could have lessons, and showed us a few tricks of her own on the keyboard. The musical bug is spreading throughout BSL! - TR
12th December 2020
Musician: Alice Zawadzki (Vocals and Violin)
“We’ll give you a hug through music.”
One can sometimes become blasé about the impact that music can have on people. Everyone likes music, right? But music is often seen as an extra, a space-filler during a meal or on a long drive.
When we arrived at Bridgeside Lodge on Saturday morning (one of our first and only weekend visits to date) the atmosphere was - and it’s difficult to pick a suitable adjective here - heavy. There weren’t as many people around as when we visit during the week and the usual smiles and greetings were not forthcoming. Staffing issues and the uncertainty around what restrictions might be imposed over Christmas (which was undoubtedly affecting us too) in addition to the constant overhanging cloud of the pandemic itself, made this entirely understandable. It was with a sense of determined responsibility then, that we made our way around the bedrooms and dining rooms of BSL.
Alice sang gospel spirituals to M in her room. In the dining room, she sang a beautiful Verdi aria to C. “Lei ha fatto bene” - “she did well!” We visited K, who wasn’t up for music on that occasion and politely declined a visit, this was rare for him as he’s usually very keen. It’s really important to give residents the agency to say no if they don’t feel like receiving us, especially when we’re asking them to invite us into their bedrooms.
When we went to M’s room she was very distressed. She was clearly in physical pain, lying awkwardly on her bed, as well as being emotionally upset too. She said she’d love some music “to take the pain away” and told us that she just wanted a cuddle. This was incredibly difficult to witness, partly because of the feeling of our own inability to help her physically, to give her the hug she really wanted. After a carer had made her more comfortable, Alice said “we’ll try and give you a hug through music.” She sang Can’t Help Falling In Love and Fly Me To The Moon. “Thank you, you’re beautiful and you sing beautifully.”
Making music when everyone is in a good mood is easy. It is when things are more difficult, or people seem a little less receptive, that our work is most essential, not an “optional-extra.”
11th December 2020
Musician: Kate Millett (Vocals and Ukulele)
“When you get to my age you only think about the necessities. I eat to stay alive. Music is another necessity. Man has been making music for thousands of years. It’s keeping us alive.” Resident G at Bridgeside Lodge.
Making music seemed to be exactly what the staff and residents at BSL needed on Friday. A distraction from the gloomy weather and even gloomier current affairs! G was on lovely form; more lucid and much more engaged than he has been over the past couple of weeks. I sang to him and spoke to him in French (his second language) which led to a wonderful chat about France, French culture and holidays. G is a deep thinker, but has deteriorated recently. Hearing him talk like that was a reassuring reminder that he’s still here.
I.J had been crying in the dining room when I joined her for a chat. We played a couple of Irish folk songs and she joined in with the singing and laughed: “I wish I could get up and do a stepdance but I’ve two left feet!” R was also thrilled to have a visitor: “What a lovely coincidence, I was just on the phone to my daughter and wondering when we’d get some music.” She stayed focused and engaged throughout each song which is encouraging as she has been easily distracted in the past: “I could listen to you singing all day!” S, L, and a Scottish lady soon joined us for a couple of Christmas songs. S is moving into her new accommodation soon. She told me she was most looking forward to some independence and spending time with her daughter, but also made a point of saying: “You Spitz lot won't be able to keep me away though…I need you lot, I’ll be over to visit you as often as I’m allowed!”
A.K put in a song request the week before (The Dimming of the Day by Richard Thompson), which he listened to with deep concentration and closed eyes. We chatted between songs and he said: “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you guys take the time to visit us. I’ve had a horrible couple of weeks and felt grotty today, but your singing has completely turned my day around. It’s really magical.” Before I left, Leyla, E.J’s carer was keen to show me the piano practice she’d been doing since her lesson with Spitz Coordinator Thom. She’s been learning Danny Boy, E.J’s favourite song, and I joined her with the Ukulele chords while E.J sang. Sitting there in E.J’s room, making music, seemed to solidify a link between us at the Spitz and the BSL staff: a bridge between carer, visiting musician and resident. The three of us even joked about how fun it would be to start a band!
By Kate Millett
4th December 2020
Musicians: Ben Hazleton (Double Bass) and Kate Millett (Vocals)
Although the second lockdown has been lifted and Christmas is around the corner, there was a sense of real sadness at Bridgeside Lodge today. A lot of residents were upset and confused while staff were exhausted and stressed. But Ben came armed with his Double Bass and a book of Christmas carols with which to gently distract and cheer. Starting on the third floor, we played in the communal dining area. Two residents who don’t usually join our activities came and sat with us. One Scottish lady was thrilled to join us: “That’s a big fiddle”, and even more delighted when we played and sang Auld Lang Syne for her: “I’m proud to be Scottish!” L also sat with us, reaching to me as I sang to her. When we finished a song she said: “I want love”, which brought tears to my eyes. Being without your family is hard enough, let alone at Christmas during a pandemic. R was another resident who was soothed by the music. He was very distressed when we arrived but when he heard the music he sat down, asked for Silent Night and closed his eyes to listen - only moments before he had been shouting and desperately walking the corridors.
Our 1st floor audience were already sitting waiting for us - word of our visit had spread! N.J was upset and missing his wife. We played him Deck the Halls to gently encourage him to start his usual hand drumming. The music seemed to bring his emotions to a head, but once he had had a cry he began his incredible percussion-ing and was soon smiling. Yerland, a BSL carer appeared during O Come All Ye Faithful and harmonised with us. We were suddenly a choir! She had to run back to work as soon as the song finished but I managed to thank her for her lovely Alto singing. She apparently loves hymns, so we will have to do more in the future! I.J was also missing her family. Our music cheered her up and she sang along to several carols. Before we left she said: “Thank you, you stopped me from crying today, I feel like new.”
The ground floor and 2nd floor were quieter than usual. Ben played some of B’s favourite jazz, and we then chatted to him for a while. It’s his birthday next week so we sang him Happy Birthday. He enjoyed the attention and said: “I can almost see the pub from here so I can imagine having a birthday pint!” In the dining room we played for A.K, Sh and E.J. We let E.J use the book of carols and all sang together while Sh laughed as I danced with her carer. Several of the staff came in to join in the singing. A.K wasn’t feeling good but he enjoyed the music. He made a few requests and was very engaged, adjusting his chair for a better view, but was also clearly in quite a lot of pain. Before leaving we got a request for God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen from J. He sang along in a surprisingly strong Baritone. G also showed off her singing. Her son was standing outside waving up at her, and as we left he said: “I could hear you all singing and playing, she loves it so much and I’m so glad you always make the effort to go in to her.”
By Kate Millett
Thursday 3rd December
Musician - Alice Zawadzki (voice and violin)
The gloom of a miserable Thursday morning was soon blown away, as Alice Zawadzki’s jazzy tones filled the dining room of the second floor of Bridgeside Lodge with the songs of Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. She then pulled out an energetic Irish jig on the violin at which point carer Gladys boogied her way into the room and began dancing with resident J. J is usually confined to a wheelchair but Gladys (who is part of our new Spitz/BSL activity team) helped her to stand, and to clap and dance to the music. We’re always so moved when carers make the extra effort for the residents, over and above their responsibilities. It gives residents a sense of joy, of normality and also makes our job easier and more fun.
We visited resident J in his room. J is usually a blues/rock ‘n’ roll man but on this occasion was in a more contemplative mood. An impromptu duet emerged, with J gently strumming and picking his guitar and Alice responding on her violin. The ability of Spitz musicians to improvise in this way, to read the mood of a person or a room and respond accordingly and appropriately is what sets our work apart. It is unique, inimitable and heartwarming. When the duet came to an end, we asked J to name the new composition he had just created with Alice: “Jazzy Tune” how about “Jazzy June!? - we’ll play it again in the summer!”
Resident J is bed-bound after a stroke. Alice played her a calming air on her violin, much J’s preferred style of music. Throughout the summer J loved hearing our outdoor concerts, as her room is on the garden side of the building. We met her husband outside later that day, he always expresses his gratitude for everything we do and it means so much to us. “Thank you. You can feel the good vibrations through all the floors. Thank you.”
As a follow up to our studio day in October. Pianist Arthur Lea suggested a video link-up with resident A, co-songwriter of “The Shiner (with Laurence Corns.) Arthur had planned to track some piano on The Shiner at his home studio in South London and thought that A might like to give his input via Zoom from BSL. Thom proposed the idea to him in the morning “Na, thanks all the same, but no.” This rejection of our idea, while a little disappointing for us personally, is actually a really positive thing as it reflects A’s independence and agency. Perhaps he’ll be up for it next time!
As we had Arthur on the line, we visited S and he played her song Hawkwell Walk. It was very poignant - Arthur 9 miles away sat at his piano at home, playing to S in real-time, a song about her old flat, so close to where she now lives at BSL. We also hung out with W a cleaner at BSL. She started writing a song with Arthur last year about her son who died. They discussed the form of the song and some new lyrics for a rap verse. Arthur then sprung on W that we plan to take her to a recording studio and for her voice to appear on the track. She was overwhelmed and very excited. It’s going to be fantastic.
Friday 27th of November
Musician: Ben Hazleton (double bass)
“è troppo grande!" Said C, a recent arrival at Bridgeside Lodge, in her native Italian. “It’s too big!” Ben Hazleton’s double bass certainly made an entrance to the second floor hallway of BSL on Friday morning. Within a few minutes, carer Gladys had everyone up and dancing as Ben slapped out a funky rhythm on the bass. A real party spirit! Residents M & G chose to watch calmly from the comfort of their armchairs. It’s a real boost for us in our work to have carers who help to get the residents involved with the music and why we consider the bond between The Spitz and the staff of BSL to be so crucial to the success of what we do. “How are you darling?” is such a lovely way to be greeted on a Friday morning and put a smile on my face.
We visited M in her room, she was in some distress but said she’d love to hear some music and asked if Ben knew The Swan from Saint Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. It’s on the list for next time! “Thank you” she said “it distracts me from the pain.” We witness heart-rending interactions like this often at BSL, but thankfully music is often a release, a tonic to so many of life’s physical and mental pains and stresses. Resident G loves to dance in her bed, and to sing along, by way of “La’s, Ah’s & Dah’s” to whatever music is being played. Today she conducted Ben with her voice and her arm, with Ben skilfully mimicking her movement in sound, plucking the strings or bowing, playing high and playing low as the conductor directed. A glorious, wordless collaboration.
On the ground floor we hung out with AK who asked about the history and genesis of the double bass, “why doesn’t it have frets like a guitar?” His son is learning guitar and is discovering classic rock through his lessons, “rather than learning to play songs he knows, like I did as a kid”. An interesting chicken and egg scenario of musical discovery. We visited NJ - BSL’s resident leg drummer. We’re currently recording an album of songs written in collaboration with BSL residents and Ben suggested that perhaps NJ should lay down some percussion on some of the tracks. “What a fine machine!” NJ exclaimed when he saw Ben’s bass, he talked about how it was able to “colour any scenario” such a beautiful way to describe the versatility of the instrument.
- Thom Rowlands
The album begins!
Thursday 26th November
In the studio - Marcus Bonfanti, Laurence Corns, Arthur Lea (musicians), Danny Monk (producer), Thom Rowlands (Spitz Co-ordinator)
At Bridgeside Lodge - Alice Zawadzki (musician) Kate Millett (Spitz administrator), BSL resident songwriters A, G, S and J
Over the past two years, Spitz musicians have been writing songs with residents and staff of Bridgeside Lodge. These new songs, many of which had their beginnings in our summer hang-out sessions, became a regular feature of our summer concerts. Residents learned the words to one another’s songs, and the Spitz Team found themselves whistling the tunes on the tube! For almost as long as we’ve been writing songs with residents, we've been dreaming about recording an album.
Back in July, Spitz pianist Arthur suggested that we start using BandLab, an online recording platform, where musicians can collaborate remotely, recording their parts at home and uploading them — creating full songs from anywhere in the world. It proved to be revolutionary in this element of our work as it meant that any member of the Spitz team could collaborate on the tracks from home. Perhaps more importantly however, it meant that residents (as long as they signed up for a free account) could also access these tracks and listen to them whenever they chose. Resident S has told us that she listens to her songs on BandLab every night before she goes to sleep.
“Everything you hear in my songs happened to me. Listening to them in my own time –
t’s like someone walking on me (in a good way). It’s helping me to get it out of my head – to get over it."
Today the dream took a momentous leap forward as we spent the day at a recording studio in Marylebone, laying down guitars, keys and vocals for six songs aided by recording engineer & producer Danny Monk.
As the musicians tracked guitars, keys and vocals, Spitz charity co-ordinator Thom rang through a video call to Kate at Bridgeside Lodge who was visiting residents with musician Alice Zawadzki. Using iPads, (purchased with Covid emergency funds over the summer) Kate was able to show J the progress of his song “The Money”, and, most importantly, get his input! He was delighted, and so enthusiastic about the album. As he listened and watched the musicians live in the studio, he asked for his guitar and began singing along with his lyrics. He kept saying: “This is my song, I wrote that” and looking around proudly. Alice harmonized and added violin melody lines as well. From the studio side of the call, it was clear to see how excited J was that his song was coming to life in the studio. Creating this bridge between the recording studio, the “outside world”, with the care home had a really stimulating effect on the residents. J seemed to visibly swell with pride.
The musicians recorded six songs, written by three other residents on Thursday. G was very happy to see us: “Wonderful, I was wondering what I would do with my afternoon.” At first when we showed him the iPad he thought he was watching TV until: “I recognise those two, they’ve played music in the garden for me many times.” His memory is deteriorating so this really shows the impression the music left on him. S was a bit distracted organising things for her new accommodation, however, as soon as she heard Arthur singing her song “Poppy and Toffee” she couldn’t help smiling and joined in.
This was an utterly ground-breaking day for The Spitz and we're so excited to see the tracks take shape in the weeks to come. We've not heard of other care-based arts organisations writing songs with residents or service users, so we're very proud of the fact that we are doing this and even more so that we're now bringing these songs to life at a professional recording studio.
By Kate Millett and Thom Rowlands
Monday 23rd November
Musician: Thom Rowlands
Uncharacteristically for Mondays, ours was a wonderful start to the week! Our Creating with Carers project at Bridgeside Lodge was developing and Leyla was having her first piano lesson with Thom! After our Covid tests, Thom and Leyla (kitted in PPE) settled in the ground floor common (which was fully ventilated) with a donated keyboard. As she was setting up, Leyla told me: “I’m nervous, but I’m also so excited!” She had been given permission from her manager to have this lesson, but was still using her valuable break time for it. For carers working 12 hour shifts, a half hour break is imperative, so her enthusiasm to have a piano lesson really showed her love for the arts and her support for our project. Thom was impressed by Leyla’s natural musical ear, and was encouraged by her eagerness to continue: “I still have 5 more minutes of my break, I want to do more!” She later said “I feel so happy, it really lifted me up, and I can’t wait to get better and play songs with residents.” She was still buzzing from the experience when I visited again on Thursday!
Week of the 16th of November
Musicians: Ben Hazleton (double bass) and Kate Millett (vocals)
With the confirmation of our negative Covid test, we were able go into BSL in teams of two, visit the residents and staff, and lift some spirits. On Wednesday Jane had chatted to a few members of staff. Millie mentioned our visit the week before: “I wasn’t here on Friday but A.K told me how happy he was that Thom & Kate visited him. He was really thrilled.” Ben Hazleton brought his Double Bass and we began our visit on the 3rd floor with J. He was immediately animated seeing Ben: “Here he is! Yes, please hand me my guitar...what are we playing today?” As we played he locked eyes with me, sang along and encouraged me to do an extra verse while he strummed his guitar. A couple of staff members stopped to watch from the door. One carer clapped and hummed along: “Oh thank you! If I wasn’t working I would join in!”
On the 2nd floor J and M were sitting by the lift. Ben played a few Beatles songs and J started singing along, looking keenly at us, smiling and clapping. M wanted to hug me and said: “Please can you come back tomorrow and sing for me? I enjoyed listening to you so much.” We also sang and played some classical songs with G (who sang along enthusiastically.) She was excited to show me her Harmonica - but was trying to tell me that she couldn't play it because of her right arm (which she lost the use of due to a stroke.) Over the summer her mobility improved amazingly, and we thought working with the Harmonica might be a great tool to help her.
The 1st floor was buzzing. The staff seemed to be in great form and danced and sang with us as we played. Hearing the musical from their rooms, several residents came into the foyer - drew up chairs and clapped, danced, sang along. Ben then played some blues and jazz with N.J accompanying as drummer on his knees! N.J then said to me: "That was absolutely marvellous. What an instrument, what a player!” We then played outside for the ground floor residents. Ben played some classical for E.J and we did Danny Boy through the window. She stood up and came right up to her window. She was singing along and had a little cry.
At Thom and Jane’s visit the next day our activities project with the carers was developed further. We are setting up piano lessons with Leyla, who is thrilled at the idea. Something to look forward to is like gold dust for carers at the moment.
By Kate Millett
Week of the 9th November
Musicians: Ben Hazleton (double bass) and Kate Millett (vocals and ukulele)
It's been a busy week for The Spitz! After our Covid tests on Monday, we sat in the garden with musicians Laurence Corns and Ben Hazleton to discuss our winter plans and some of the exciting projects up our sleeves! At 1 o’clock, four members of BSL’s care staff joined us for a socially distanced brainstorming meeting. Millie, Leyla, Gladys and Ben have all shown a lot of interest in and support for our work. We wanted to join forces, learn from each other, and come up with new activities for BSL’s residents, tailored to individual needs. Our objectives are two-fold; to support the (stressed and exhausted) carers and give them a voice, and to ensure there are regular activities at BSL in between our visits. Our first meeting was very encouraging. The carers were thrilled to be part of our project, and grateful that their opinions were valued. Watch this space!
On Thursday Jane went back to BSL with Ben Hazleton and his Double Bass.They wandered through the different floors, playing for several residents in the dining rooms (where Ben's bass caused quite a stir), and visited bed bound residents in their rooms. Ben also played through the door of new resident D, who is in isolation. D loves jazz and appreciated our efforts; we joked that one day we would see his face! Armed with gloves, Jane was able to hand J his guitar so he could jam with Ben. He was very engaged and watched Ben keenly throughout. G was enthralled by Ben’s classical playing. She sang along cheerfully and, with her characteristic determination, attempted to say Vivaldi. The staff seemed keen to enjoy the music too; one carer was clapping and filming in the corridor, and on the third floor Ikram said ‘please, please come into the dining room!’ Everyone was delighted to hear The Spitz would be back the following day. They all seemed in need of music, friendship and communication.
Thom and I returned on Friday morning to entertain the care home before their lunch. After our meeting on Monday we were keen to make the effort to visit residents we haven’t yet had the chance to meet properly. We visited A.K in his room. He apologised for being unable to sit up and greet us. He had heard me singing from the dining room and was thrilled we had come in to introduce ourselves. A.K put in a couple of requests and seemed extremely moved by the music: “That really touched me, hearing you sing is very emotional....you made me cry. Beautiful.” We also went into H.L’s room, a resident we had never met before. He was unable to speak, but watched me keenly, nodded and attempted to smile. G was excited to show us the incredible improvements she'd made with her leg mobility — we promised we'd do some dancing when we come back next week! E.J and her carer Leyla were sitting with a few other residents in the dining room. The day before they had read poetry and sung together while Ben accompanied them. Leyla told us what a positive effect this had had on them: ‘What a treat, this is such a treat’- E.J.
By Kate Millett
Our Challenging Autumn
5th of November
Musicians: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals) and Kate Millett (vocals)
Despite the start of the second lockdown, Bridgeside Lodge were determined not to cancel their annual fireworks evening. With so little to celebrate these days, the fun, enjoyment, and tradition seemed key in raising the residents and staff' spirits. The Spitz were asked to provide some accompanying music and it was the first time we had been at BSL in the evening. The twinkling lights from the care home windows were reflected in the canal and fireworks could be heard in the distance. We set up the keyboard with a portable light and pianist and singer Arthur Lea came armed with hat and gloves.
Staff and residents came out to the garden or stood on the balconies to play with sparklers and listen to the music. Many of them sat to listen to Arthur’s playing, all wrapped up in blankets.
It was heartwarming to hear the care staff whooping and laughing as the fireworks lit the sky. Arthur timed his playing for “in-between the bangs” once the fireworks started. It wasn’t until after the last one went off that we realised we had an audience of over 40 people on the other side of the canal! They waved and clapped at us cheerfully.
To finish off the evening Arthur and I sang a couple of residents' songs. It was the first time I had performed E.J’s song for her, and she sat engaged for its entirety. The evening was a great success. We were all agreed that the sense of escapism was powerful. As we performed in the twilight it didn’t feel like we were in a care home at all, let alone being in a care home during a pandemic.
By Kate Millett
4th of November
Musician: Kate Millett (vocals and ukulele)
After securing the necessary permissions and undergoing rigorous Health and Safety training at Bridgeside Lodge, The Spitz were finally able to re-enter the building, as essential workers. With some trepidation we went up to our old office on the 2nd floor, kitted in visors, masks and gloves; unsure of what to expect from our first, experimental, indoor music session during the pandemic. An atmosphere of anxiety, tension and exhaustion had been building at BSL over the past few weeks: winter is upon us, Covid cases are rising, and care homes are still being forgotten. Then lockdown was announced.
For the mental health and stability of all at BSL, it is vital that our activities continue. Without our visits, stimulation for the residents is minimal and their deterioration (both physical and mental), more immanent. With this in mind we were eager for our Wednesday session to be a success. We roamed the corridors (changing PPE per floor) and chatted to the residents. Many of them recognised us and were thrilled to be being visited! One resident, Olive, said: “I was just thinking about you yesterday and wondering when we might see you again!” Another resident, Gillian, burst into laughter when we entered her room and immediately showed us her writing practice (the improvements she’s made are staggering.) She sang along with my cover of Moon River, pitch perfect.
It was my first time playing music inside the care home and I was surprised by how much more engaged the residents were compared to in the gardens. There was so much more eye contact, understanding, and connection. Perhaps it was being in the comfort of their own warm rooms with less to distract them. A few residents were moved to tears and one lady, originally from Dublin, attempted to get out of her wheelchair to dance with me as I played her an Irish folk tune. It was incredibly moving to see how much our short visit benefitted them. We now know that, although the next month will be experimental, it will definitely be worth every effort.
By Kate Millett
28th of October
Musicians: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals) and Henrik Jensen (bass)
We were pleasantly surprised by how lovely the weather was when we arrived at Bridgeside Lodge on Wednesday. The autumnal light bounced off the canal and the sun shone. We were relieved, having originally booked our event for that afternoon (we decided to change it as it was forecast to rain). Arthur Lea and Henrik Jensen played an uplifting set of jazz, residents’ songs, and even took a couple of requests. S was in the garden when Arthur arrived. She is moving into her own apartment soon but has told us she is keen to keep visiting The Spitz. She said she is especially excited about the prospect of “writing songs about my new life.”
N.J came out to watch from one of the balconies, BSL’s version of ‘the gods’! It really made our day to witness such genuine joy as he clapped and danced along to the music. He waved down at us and enjoyed some ‘distance dancing’ with me and Jane. I also witnessed a heart warming chat between a BSL carer and a family visitor. The two had struck up conversation while the resident receiving the visit had a nap. They comforted each other as they both expressed frustration and stress at the ongoing pandemic: “We’re in this together”. It was a real moment of solidarity between strangers.
Fatma, BSL’s Centre Manager, is extremely concerned about both staff and residents’ mental health as Covid cases in London rise and restrictions continue to tighten. She sees our work as vital for their well-being, and to ensure our continued visits has offered us weekly Covid tests alongside her staff. We had our first one on Wednesday from Assistant Manager Audrey who was quick, gentle, and made us feel very comfortable. However, she was also clearly exhausted:“I did 65 of these yesterday.” With negative results we will be able to bring music back into BSL and benefit a much larger number of residents. It was an opportunity we jumped at, and were honored to be included in Fatma’s staff circle, many of whom have shown a keen interest in our work.
By Kate Millett
20th October 2020
Musicians: Alice Zawadzki (vocals and violin) and Luca Boscagin (guitar)
At the end of last week London moved to Covid Tier 2, bringing with it a raft of new regulations for the Spitz and BSL to navigate. We’re working hard together to find the best ways to continue our performances which the residents value so much in a way that’s safe for all involved and compliant with new measures. For now at least, music lives!
Today we welcomed much-loved regular Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin accompanied by her guitarist of choice Luca. resident E.J was very impressed. “Was that one a bit fast?” Alice asked at the end of Caravan, and E.J replied “no! Faster!”
Come the halfway point we had an excellent showing of faces in the garden, both familiar and new. H.S brought his wife G (who is often sadly confined indoors) out to enjoy the concert, and when the band shouted out for requests H.S asked hopefully if they knew anything in Turkish. Not only did they produce a beautiful traditional song from memory, Alice even made a valiant stab at the lyrics in their native language, reading from her phone. G listened with a transported expression and H.S shed a few tears, complimenting Alice on her pronunciation.
The range of styles we were treated to today was just as diverse, even including some singalong Bob Marley which went down a storm. It was lovely to see E.J's quietly emotional reaction to hearing her favourite Danny Boy played so beautifully. New resident N.J pulled up a spot in prime position and was absolutely focused throughout the set, smiling widely and clapping his hands in time with the music. He told me at the end how very professionally organised and relaxing he’d found the show, that nothing in quite some time had taken his mind off his problems like this, and that he hoped very much he’d see us again.
A BBC article came out last week about the plight of those in care homes whose vital sources of entertainment and enjoyment, including music therapy, had been removed by Covid exactly when they were needed most. It really brought home to us how important the work we do at BSL has been, and we hope very much we’ll find a way of adapting to the increasingly wintery conditions and continuing our sessions into coming months.
By Ursula Sagar
14th October 2020
Musicians: Dom Pipkin (piano and vocals) and Graham Hughes (bass, flugelbone, hamonica and vocals)
Although chilly, Wednesday turned out to be a really beautiful autumn day. The sun even came out and a couple of Bridgeside Lodge’s residents took the opportunity to bask in the weak warmth it provided. Dom Pipkin and Graham Hughes came armed with New Orleans classics and made us all laugh with several themed satirical jazz pieces. BSL’s staff and residents were impressed by Graham’s smooth multi-instrumentalism. He swapped seamlessly between the Double Bass, the Flugelbone and the Harmonica. Both residents G and E.J, who are always keen to attend our events, exclaimed: “Oh, another one!” when Graham played a wonderful Harmonica solo.
We were delighted to see S, who had recently spent time in hospital getting stent surgery for a hole in her heart. She was grinning from ear to ear and said: “I’m a whole heart now!” She also told us that she had managed to secure accommodation in a block of flats across the road from BSL. Moving into accessible accommodation is something S has been hoping for for a long time. We are so happy for her, and were touched beyond words when she said: “The best thing about it is that I’ll still be able to come over here to visit you lot every week!” The bond we have formed with S, strengthened over our busy summer, is obviously very important to her.
A few residents had visitors. I.R’s daughter recognised G and even came up to chat to him as he listened to the music. This gave us a lovely insight into the BSL extended community. G told us he was disappointed to have missed the first half. He said he was nostalgic for our summer events: “I miss having people around me, the atmosphere was so cheerful.” It was undeniable that the atmosphere at BSL had changed. Staff seemed nervous, stressed and overworked. Millie, a BSL carer, told us that they were understaffed and exhausted: “There's a real sense that things are about to get a lot worse.”
The event finished on a wonderfully positive note. A new resident, N.J, joined us for the second half. He sat with his carer and used the table as a drum kit. His rhythm was so spot on that we assumed he must have been a drummer (something that made him laugh as he told us he had been an architect!) The musicians even complimented him saying: “We couldn’t have done this without you!” Millie told me she couldn’t believe the transformation in him, he seemed so happy and calm. She said that since he arrived at BSL a few days ago he had been very distressed and nothing would soothe him, until now!
By Kate Millett
7th October 2020
Musicians: Marcus Bonfanti (guitar and vocals) and Laurence Corns (guitar and vocals)
On today’s Bridgeside Lodge musical menu were the magnificent Marcus Bonfanti and much-loved Spitz regular Laurence Corns, both on voice and acoustic guitar. Marcus won the British Blues Award for Best Songwriter in 2012, and a further two British Blues Awards for Best Acoustic Performer in 2013 and 14! It was sunny but a little chilly which kept some of the residents listening from indoors including D, whose stroke very sadly left him without movement in his face but who was on his feet moving to the music.
G said he was feeling deeply frustrated by Covid these days but music always helps him get through, and Marcus cracked him up with a cheeky introduction to a lesser-known standard – "this is a song about medication. I gather a lot of that goes on here!" Several residents joined us for almost the full session.K's carer explained that although he's deaf he gets a lot from the band‘s visual energy and the vibrations through the ground.
I spoke for a long time with Leyla, a lovely carer who's been at BSL for only a year, about what a baptism of fire the past seven months have been. She‘s a big music fan and was especially taken with Marcus's voice. G greeted us with a huge smile and became quite agitated when her carer tried to take her indoors, but we eventually won her round, smiling and dancing with her hands as the
band played some Beatles, her favourite. Her quality of life is improving visibly each time we see her as her speech and movement gradually return. Leyla told me she's sure the music helps.
G told Laurence after the set what a special thing it is to have us here. Laurence thanked him in turn for being such a wonderful appreciative audience, and it’s true – we all come away from our days at BSL with a beautiful sense of the power and vitality of live music.
By Ursula Sagar
1st October 2020
Musicians: Najwa Ezzaher (vocals) and Matteo Grassi (guitar)
Bridgeside Lodge had very kindly put up two gazebos in their garden for our Spitz event on Thursday. We had already had to move our event by a day to accommodate the rainy weather, so the threatening clouds had us all a bit on edge. Najwa and Matteo joined us for their second BSL gig, and had prepared a set of wonderful feel good classics. They gave it their all, saying: “We’re just so happy to be gigging!” BSL staff brought our extra speaker up to the second floor so residents could sit in the common room, warm and dry, and have perfect audio! Najwa chatted to her audience throughout, despite not being able to physically see many of them. As the music started, some residents braved the outdoors or sat on the balconies, and we even noticed residents opening their bedroom windows for a better listen.
D came down to sit in his usual chair in the ground floor common room. The musicians played his favourite song, Guantanemera. Although he is very rarely verbal, D seems to understand everything that's said to him. Hearing his song, he broke into the biggest smile. This was the first time I’d seen him so animated. Another resident who surprised us was M, whose wife was visiting him in the garden. M is only middle aged, but sadly had a stroke and has suffered from brain damage. Najwa asked him about his favourite music, and was told he loves Eagles. While she sang Hotel California to him we noticed a transformation. He was suddenly smiling and looking around at us all. Each time ‘California’ came up in the lyrics he would repeat it to us — we had never heard him speaking before. It was a very moving moment.
For the second half of the concert we had a larger outside audience. Najwa surprised S by singing her her favourite song. S had asked Najwa to sing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ at their last gig, and although Najwa did an amazing job, she said she wanted to practice it for S. It’s fair to say that Whitney herself would have been proud of Najwa’s cover on Thursday. S was even more thrilled when Najwa called her our “Superstar songwriter!” As S is one of the youngest at BSL, Najwa suggested they do a couple of pop songs for her at the end. Groups of kids walking along the canal path opposite cheered and waved as we all danced and sang along!
By Kate Millett
Our Covid Summer
24th September 2020
Morning: Nawazish Ali-Khan (vocals and harmonium), Laurence Corns (guitar) and Ben Hazleton (bass)
Afternoon: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals), Laurence Corns (guitar and vocals), Ben Hazleton (bass) and Wesley Gibbens (drums)
Today was National Arts in Care Homes Day (yes, really – it restores our faith in humankind that such a thing exists!) and we had a very special programme of treats in store for the music-lovers at Bridgeside Lodge.
Breaking from our regular Wednesday afternoon schedule, we kicked off at 11a.m. with the first of our two live acts, a North Indian classical trio led by the hugely respected and phenomenally gifted vocal and harmonium master Nawazish. The Spitz were introduced to Nawazish’s work through his pupil Laurence, one of our most regular singer-guitarists. Also accompanying Nawazish was regular Spitz bassist Ben who delighted residents with his unexpected multi-instrumentalist talent for the tabla!
A new cold snap confirming summer’s now definitely over after last week’s unseasonal heat, made it hard for many of the residents to spend as long as they’d have liked outdoors (although we did get plenty of waves and smiles from upper balconies.) The upside is that this way we got a chance to chat in-depth to those who braved the cold. I had a wonderful long chat with H.S, a gentleman whose wife G is a bedbound resident. He showed me a video on his phone of her response to the music, moving her foot along in time! He gave me a much deeper insight into the trauma of recent months at the home and the many friends they’ve lost. I asked him if life feels any easier now, and he explained that it’s more like developing a rhythm, living day by day and treasuring moments like this one. I asked what our weekly sessions mean to him and his wife – “more than you know,” he said. “They give us hope.”
In the band’s break Tanya played violin to guests through their windows who chatted with and clapped her from their rooms, taking requests including Schubert’s beautiful Ave Maria. This morning’s show was a complete departure from the classic jazz, swing and early pop repertoire we typically bring. It’s so important to us that everyone has access to continue discovering and exploring new styles and sound worlds, regardless of age, and the reactions of the residents who joined us certainly suggest they feel the same.
By Ursula Sagar
The threat of rain became unignorable during our lunch break and we had a four piece band booked for the afternoon, so unfortunately BSL’s gazebo was too small. Luckily, we were able to adapt and ensure the show could go on! Thom covered the PAs, mixers, and electricals with waterproofs and the musicians were happy to huddle under the shelter of the 1st floor balcony for cover.
We had Arthur Lea on the keys, Laurence Corns on the guitar, Ben Hazleton on the double bass, and Wesley Gibbens on the drums. They played a wonderful mixture of jazz, swing, and BSL favourites (including several residents’ songs.) Although most of the audience members were sitting in the common rooms and watching through the windows, we were reassured that they could hear the music quite clearly. G attempted to brave the chilly weather, as he always loves our sessions, but in the end he contented himself with bringing his armchair right up the window and having tea and biscuits in Covid’s equivalent of a front row seat!
Visitors were allowed to sit in the common room to visit their loved ones. They wore extensive PPE and were socially distanced, but all seemed agreed that this kind of visit was better than nothing. E.J’s nephew sat with her and G as the two friends enjoyed the music. He told us afterwards that E.J had instantly perked up when the musicians started: “It was really wonderful to watch.” Another family visitor joked with us as she left saying: “I might time my next visit for when The Spitz isn’t scheduled. Mum was more interested in the music than in me!
A member of staff took one of our iPads into residents’ bedrooms and the band were able to play to them through our second iPad outside. J was particularly pleased, and we could hear him singing along to his favourite Frank Sinatra songs, clapping and saying hello to the musicians! Towards the end we thought we had a keen new audience member, as Tom-Tom the Center’s cat sat staring at the musicians for about 10 minutes! We soon realised that he hadn’t developed an appreciation for music though — it turned out his food bowl was under Wesley’s chair!
By Kate Millett
16th September 2020
Musicians: Adam Bridges (keyboard) and Jo Rotunno (vocals)
The Spitz team arrived today to a perfect day for outdoor music-making – gloriously blue and warm but not too hot to keep the residents inside. I myself was hugely frustrated to be housebound with a sore throat today, not wanting to take any risks, so along with the BSL contingent enjoying the concert from their rooms I tuned in on Facebook Live. Thom does a great job making sure the sound and image quality of the stream’s top notch, but I can only imagine how much these sessions must mean to the residents given how sorely I'm missing my own weekly music dose. The musicians meanwhile laughed about the lighter side of Covid’s effects on the music world as they struggled to agree which day of the week it was!
Today we welcomed a fantastic pair of fresh faces to BSL – Adam Bridges on keys and Jo Rotunno on vocals – for a set ranging from toe-tapping jazz standards to classic swing and Latin tunes, fondly remembered and warmly received by today’s guests. Jo has a beautifully authentic jazz voice straight off a 78rpm record, resonant of greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and transported us straight to the smoky salons and dance halls of 1930s-50s Manhattan with a thoughtfully selected seasonal and sunshine theme. Tunes included Sunny, Autumn Leaves, Bing Crosby classic Pennies from Heaven, Irving Berlin’s buoyant Blue Skies, and later the smouldering Summertime, all perfect for the setting. In the end we had a lovely big crowd of 15-20 residents enjoying the music outside, who left the band in no doubt of where their tastes lay, enthusiastically shouting “more jazz!” when asked if they fancied a change. As the clock hit 4p.m. the called for one more song, and the duo were happy to oblige, rounding up with a glittering rendition of Billie Holliday’s Lover Come Back To Me, a final tribute to the blue skies above. Adam and Jo received the stamp of approval from Spitz stalwart resident G, who came over afterwards to tell Thom how excellent he thought the music had been.
By Ursula Sagar
9th September 2020
Musicians: Laurence Corns (guitar and vocals) and Paddy Milner (piano and vocals)
The residents were out in force today as the weather held out for a lovely afternoon of music in the garden of Bridgeside Lodge, with the wonderful Laurence Corns on guitar and voice, a regular at Spitz, and the formidable Paddy Milner on keys and vocals. Paddy's one of the country's most respected blues and boogie-woogie pianists and leads the house blues band at Ronnie Scott's, as well as playing for Tom Jones, so we knew we were in for a treat!
Laurence kicked us off with a gypsy swing classic he’d appropriately renamed Coffee and Bagels, having just upended his espresso over his otherwise beautifully dapper suit, which raised a lot of laughs. Residents A, H and B were ready and waiting for kick-off, and soon Sh, recently arrived at BSL, joined Tanya for a boogie on the lawn! Hot on their heels came a steady flow of listeners including music-lovers Gerard and Sarah, who told us they were excited to hear the songs they'd composed with Laurence and Arthur in recent months. The boys covered a really wide range of repertoire from ‘20s through ‘60s and everything in between, with Paddy’s sparkling finger-twisters and Laurence’s beautiful singing and scatting rewarded with loud applause from both sides of the canal.
I spent a lovely hour with G, and her son D who told us he'd rarely seen her so animated. G has a speech disorder and it was remarkable to see how her vocabulary had improved as we sang along with the lyrics of a full verse of I Got Rhythm, unthinkable a few months ago. D wrote a series of words in coloured pens for her to copy, and she added one of her own, 'love', which she showed us with a cheeky wink. Residents A and E.J told us how in their twenties they would go dancing every Saturday night at Shoreditch Town Hall to tunes like those playing now. We chatted about A's huge LP collection and I couldn't agree more when he said he believed these songs would last forever – that “it’s music which keeps us all going right now”. Afterwards many of the guests came up to thank the band for their lovely playing, and A told me if he were courting me he’d be doing it to this kind of music. It’s the most romantic thing I’ve heard all year!
By Ursula Sagar
4th September 2020
Musician: Tanya Cracknell (violin)
Our hang out music session at Bridgeside Lodge on the 4th of September was very special. Tanya played a varied set, from classical to pop. Although there was a cold wind, a couple of residents were happy to sit outside with us, and more enjoyed the music from the common room. Tanya walked around the outside of the building and played through the resident's windows. E.J had been sitting at her table when Tanya started playing, but soon moved closer to the window and ended up lying on her bed listening.
G was recognising songs, singing along, urging Tanya on, and dancing with her arms and legs. It was her reactions to certain songs which made the event so magical. She started crying during Adele’s ‘Make you feel my love’ and when I asked her why she was crying she just closed her eyes and said: “I don’t know, it’s beautiful.” The music was touching her very profoundly. Surprisingly, her favourite piece was Stormzy’s ‘Blinded by your Grace.’ She was laughing and shouting “Wow, wow” for the whole song. I think it’s fair to say Stormzy has a new fan!
Soon we had all forgotten about the chilly wind. Staff danced from the balconies, and more residents came out into the garden. Resident H was happy to conduct Tanya’s playing, especially to the classical pieces. He is a bit hard of hearing and doesn’t seem to hear people talking very well. Interestingly, he appears to have no problem hearing the music! Maybe the high tone of the violin helps. At the end he told us how much he’d enjoyed the afternoon, and: “You’ve really made my day.”
By Kate Millett
2nd September 2020
Musicians: Marcina Arnold (guitar and vocals) and Brian Edwards (saxophone)
When we arrived at Bridgeside Lodge for our next scheduled music event this week, Fatma, the Center Manager, told us it had been a difficult morning for some of the residents. We were eager to raise their spirits, but were concerned that the chilly wind would deter many from coming down into the garden. Luckily, Thom had brought an extra PA system which a member of the BSL staff brought up to the second floor, so the music could float through the corridors and reach more people without them having to leave the warmth of their rooms.
Marcina and Brian’s beautiful music provided a lovely distraction for the wider community too. Many of the local passersby on the canal path stopped to listen and wave over at us. House-boat owners sat out to watch, and the workers re-asphalting the road outside (one of whom even put in a couple of song requests) were able to listen as they worked! Brian’s saxophone was also a big hit with I.J. She said it made her think of jazz bars and cocktails!
We were very pleased to see that one family member, who had come to visit his mother, decided to stay for a while after his mother had gone back in. He seemed happy to enjoy the music and have a moment to relax. S also seemed to be very relaxed. During the interval, we played her some of the songs. After asking her how they made her feel she said: “All sorts of emotions. Sometimes I cry. But mostly I listen to the words and think about how these things have really happened to me.” She is then able to sleep with a clear mind. The success of S’s love of her songs (“I’m so glad we wrote them”) and the emotional journey they’ve helped her along is something we hope we can do with many other residents at BSL.
By Kate Millett
26th August 2020
Musicians: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals) and Henrik Jensen (bass)
There was a definite autumnal feel in the air at our event on the 26th of August, which led us to contemplate the summer of weekly music sessions we had been fortunate enough to put on. When we returned to BSL post- lockdown, understandably there was a lot of suppressed stress, anger and confusion. Our aim was to support their well-being and help them process their experiences. The result has been incredibly rewarding. Wonderful friendships have emerged, the community spirit has strengthened, and there have been clear improvements in mental health. It’s impossible to ignore how important these improvements are, and we are determined to continue our visits - despite the winds!
E.J was thrilled and excited to be able to listen to her newly written song during the interval. She laughed as the verse about her husband came up and reached out to hold my hand. Normally a more reserved woman, E.J thanked me with a huge smile on her face.
Another resident who spoke about the therapeutic benefits of our songwriting was S. Thanks to the app Band Lab, she is able to listen to her music whenever she wants. S told us that she listens to all her songs every single night. She said that now that her thoughts have been put into music she feels a sense of freedom and release. She tried to describe this feeling to us as: "something sitting on my chest...but in a good way!" S's story is a very sad one, so any improvements we can help with means so much.
By Kate Millett
21st August 2020
Musician: Kate Millett (vocals and ukulele)
Over the past few months The Spitz has grown accustomed to musicking in Bridgeside Lodge’s garden in all different weathers. Our hangout songwriting session on Friday the 21st of August was accompanied by strong and blustery winds. With a bit of adapted teamwork (including Tanya alternating between being a music stand and a camera woman) we had a lovely morning, wonderful chats with staff and residents, and a potential new song to write.
E.J was very keen to join us again. She seemed to have a lovely
relationship with her carer Leyla and the two of them sat with us for
the whole session. Between songs we would chat all about E.J’s
life (from childhood to marriage.) She was very interested by my
suggestion of writing a song about her life, and said she looked
forward to hearing it next time.
Having a smaller audience meant we had the freedom to focus on
individuals, including BSL staff. Often the staff are so busy that we
don’t get a chance to sitdown and really talk to them. Leyla, E.J’s
carer, was clearly very interested in music and we often heard her
helping E.J to remember tunes she liked. Leyla also told us a bit
about her experiences in the height of the pandemic.She said: “To
be honest I really lost all hope. There was so much death and
so much sadness everyday.”
Her words were raw and heartfelt. Although things are much better
now, the trauma is still there. She went on to say that the support
they all gave each other helped them get through it. We told her our
aim is to support BSL’s staff as well as the residents. She loved our
‘Clap for Carers’ videos and said: “I always look forward to your visits.”
By Kate Millett
20th August 2020
Musicians: Najwa Ezzaher (vocals) and Matteo Grassi (guitar)
Our Spitz concert on the 19th of August had to be postponed due to a day of non-stop rain. Luckily musicians Najwa and Matteo were flexible and able to join us the following morning instead. The weather couldn’t have been more different, and as the sun came out, so did the residents, staff and passersby on the canal path! It felt like we were part of a community celebration or holiday; full of cheer, music and dancing —a wonderful distraction from reality.
Social distancing restrictions have made it very difficult for performers to include and have personal connections with their listeners, but Najwa skillfully overcame these barriers. Residents such as K and D, who don’t normally dance, were moving their arms and legs, encouraged by Najwa’s rhythm. The music was working it’s magic!
G was given a special rendition of his song ‘Jacko’, which the musicians had learnt especially for him. Najwa is French Moroccan, so she was able to sing the song perfectly. G was thrilled and took Najwa to visit Jacko’s grave on the side of BSL’s garden. Najwa said it was a wonderful experience and that she was extremely touched and honoured.
By Kate Millett
14th August 2020
Musician: Tanya Cracknell (violin)
Although the weather had turned, we were lucky enough to dodge the rain clouds for our morning songwriting session at Bridgeside Lodge on the 14th of August. Tanya Cracknell was leading the session on the violin, and came prepared to suit everybody’s musical tastes. It was a lovely morning and a good opportunity to get to know some of the new residents.
We knew that E.J loves classical music and she was so touched that Tanya had gone to the effort of preparing some classical pieces for her. I could see her smiling as she closed her eyes, absorbing the music and humming along.
S was thrilled that Tanya could play some of her favourite pop songs; by artists such as Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and Alicia Keys. As one of the youngest residents, S often feels a bit removed at BSL so this was refreshing for her. She is one of the most involved in our Spitz programmes and has written the most songs with us. We joked that she could practically release her own album with us now. When asked what she would call it she said: “A Day in the Life of Bridgeside Lodge.”
By Kate Millett
12th August 2020
Musicians: Laurence Corns (guitar and vocals) and Marcus Bonfanti (guitar and vocals)
To accommodate the rainy weather forecast, we had our first morning event on the 12th of August. We were concerned that the early hour might affect the size of the audience (many residents sleep through the morning). However, we were pleasantly surprised! There was a big turn out, including several residents who don’t usually join our events.
Musicians Laurence Corns and Marcus Bonfanti know Bridgeside Lodge well. They played sunny themed (weather appropriate) jazz, blues and swing songs, but also took requests. One request was from K, who is new to BSL. He told me that he used to be the drummer in a band. His request was ‘Mustang Sally’ which Marcus said is the perfect song for a drummer. K’s demeanour was transformed. He had been sitting quietly at the back of the audience with his head down, but was soon upright, smiling and engaged.
Memory is another thing music can stimulate. I spoke to I.R, a resident originally from Dublin, about Ireland and her favourite music. She said that for her, music is very meaningful: “When I listen to music I think of my son. He loved music, so I always imagine him.” She later told me that many of her family members had died, leading me to suspect that maybe her son was no longer alive. Although this wasn’t confirmed, the music had still done a powerful thing by helping her feel close to her loved one.
By Kate Millett
5th August 2020
Musicians: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals) and Alice Zawadzki (vocals and violin)
We had Arthur Lea and Alice Zawadzki return to Bridgeside Lodge on the 5th of August for the second week in a row. Repetition often brings positive results among care home communities and, sure enough, many of the residents recognised Alice and were thrilled to see the two musicians back again.
A BSL member of staff took one of the iPads inside the care home and the concert continued on FaceTime for residents who weren’t well enough to come down. He went from bedroom to bedroom on each of the floors and residents such as J.F and G were able to enjoy the music. It makes a big difference for them to know that we haven’t forgotten about them.
We always know it’s a good event when the dancing starts!
While watching two members of staff dancing, we started
chatting to H. He told us how much he loved dancing and
music. He’s from the Fiji islands, and before he lost a leg in
a motorbike accident he said he used to dance every day.
It's something he misses, but he's grateful he can still listen
to music. He said: “If I could, I would be up there dancing till
the music stopped.”
By Kate Millett
3rd August 2020
Musician: Laurence Corn (guitar and vocals)
“I’ve made many great friends through music”: were some wise words from E.J, one of Bridgeside Lodge’s newest residents. She was happy to join our songwriting session on the 3rd of August, and enjoyed the uplifting songs of Laurence Corns. Our songwriting music sessions are focused on the care home residents. We chat to them, take song requests, hear their stories and (if they are up for it) help to shape their words into songs.
Once engaged in conversation, one resident, A, began to tell us about the “stack of records” he had at home. After that there was no stopping him! He described his life as a French polisher in Shoreditch and the many changes he’d seen London go through. He reflected: “You live your life, and if you can’t talk about it, what’s the point? It keeps your memory fresh.” He was thrilled when Laurence suggested we write a song about his experiences. Quick as anything, he came up with the title: ‘Shiner.’
As we moved around the garden chatting to different people and playing songs, resident G followed. He was so happy that the Spitz were visiting again: “It really brightens up my day.” He began to tell us about the adventures he used to go on as a boy. At the age of 15 he cycled to Stockholm. We thought this would make a wonderful song and G was very pleased. A new project and something to look forward to brought out a lovely smile on his face.
By Kate Millett
29th July 2020
Musicians: Alice Zawadzki (vocals and violin) and Arthur Lea (piano and vocals)
Another lovely afternoon was spent at Bridgeside Lodge on the 29th of July, in wonderful company and listening to great music. Alice Zawadzki, 2020’s Jazz FM Voicalist of the year nominee, sang and played the violin with Arthur Lea on the keyboards. The level of engagement from the audience, combined with how well the musicians worked together and the beautiful weather made it one of our most memorable post-lockdown events.
A particularly special moment was when Leslie, one of BSL’s resident’s, stood up to request a song. L is rarely an audience member at Spitz events. She walks in and out, but is easily agitated and irritated so doesn’t usually get involved. We were also thrilled to have J well enough to come down into the garden for the whole session. He brought his guitar again and said: “I’ve been keeping my guitar polished. Even though it’s not getting much use at the moment, I want it to be looking its best.”
It was wonderful to witness how close the community was. The staff have a genuine affection for the residents, give excellent care, and are on very friendly terms with family visitors. One visitor was thrilled that she had coincided her visit with a Spitz gig. Sadly her mum has very advanced Dementia and her visits can be difficult. She told us: “Mum is getting less and less responsive, but having live music to listen to helps on many levels.” When her mum did come down to the garden we saw her smile of recognition and a touching reunion.
By Kate Millett
22nd July 2020
Musicians: Marcina Arnold (guitar and vocals) and Brian Edwards (sax)
There was a particularly peaceful vibe at our Spitz/ Bridgeside Lodge event on the 22nd of July. Brian and Marcina took us on a journey with their set of haunting Brazilian tunes and melodic jazz. Brian complimented the already sleepy atmosphere by the canal by warming up his saxophone facing onto the lock. It even lured over two women floating in a rubber dinghy, who stayed for the whole gig and said they felt they’d been: “drawn over by the pied piper!”
B and S, BSL’s sweethearts, were in their usual front row seats. They happily soaked up the music, the sun, and their new love. Last week, S helped B write a song with Arthur called “He’s in it to Win it.” During a break for the musicians, we managed to play the song’s first draft through the PA system. B was grinning ear to ear. It was so touching to hear him telling S that we were playing “their song.” Tanya noticed how much more open and confident he had become. It was like he had a newfound voice and was proud of it.
Marcina encouraged her audience to feel the music in our bodies and move with it. It was amazing to watch G, who has recently started to regain a bit of movement in her right arm, being encouraged by the music to try to use it in her dancing. Seeing these transformations never fails to be deeply moving — a reminder of why we do this vital work.
By Kate Millett
10th July 2020
Musicians: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals) and Henrik Jensen (bass)
Our gig at Bridgeside Lodge on Friday 10th of July was the busiest event we’ve put on so far since returning to work post lockdown. Resident’s families are finally able to come and visit their loved ones again, and our concert accompanied their reunions. For one new resident, who sat smiling quietly in the sunshine with his family, it was the first trip outside his room since arriving.
Arthur Lea and Henrik Jensen played a mixture of Bridgeside Lodge favourites; songs written by residents, and rock and blues classics. G, one of the newer residents, had experienced a loss that week. His beautiful pet bird and much loved companion Jacko had died. Arthur played G the song they had written about him the week before. It was very moving. Afterwards, G said philosophically: “The dead don’t come back, but the memory stays.” Jacko’s musical legacy was not only therapeutic for G in his grief, but was also a mark of our friendship and the support we aim to give.
The Spitz have begun a collaboration with Islington Bereavement Services (IBS) who joined us for the first time at this event. Their employee Gareth circulated very effectively in just the hour that he was there — including chatting to visitor S.T who's husband died just before Christmas.
James, a BSL member of staff, took one of our Spitz iPad’s through the building while the gig played through Facetime. Bedbound residents were then able to be part of the afternoon. J was able to watch the gig from his bed and between songs could be heard clapping and saying “thank you, thank you”.
By Kate Millett
1st July 2020
Musicians: Laurence Corns (guitar and vocals) and Marcus Bonfanti (guitar and vocals)
“This is just like Glastonbury'' laughed Frede, BSL’s Centre Administrator, as heavy rain accompanied our next event. Sheltered under BSL’s gazebo, or “The Pyramid Stage” as it was dubbed, blues and jazz musicians Laurence Corns and Marcus Bonfanti were not to be deterred and played a wonderful gig.
We split our PA system so that one speaker was just inside BSL’s common room entrance, allowing the residents and staff perfect audio without any of the cold or rain. Residents and carers joined the audience downstairs, or looked out of their windows, clapping along to the incredible guitar solos. Across the canal there were even local passersby, huddled under the trees, who couldn’t help but stop and appreciate the music. Laurence reminded us that this was probably the only (legal) live music gig currently available in the whole country!
As lockdown continues to loosen, it’s easy for some of us to begin to put the past few months behind us, however, for many vulnerable communities who have been terribly affected, such as BSL, it is an ongoing nightmare. Fatma, the Centre Manager told us on Wednesday how valuable our visits are: “Having The Spitz back is so very encouraging. For the staff, it has finally given us a sense of hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel!”
By Kate Millett
29th June 2020
Musician: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals)
Our first post-lockdown Spitz Songwriting session felt quite autumnal. But, although the weather was against us we were sure we would uncover some potential songs among the residents or staff. Covid has been an unprecedented time of complex emotions — isolation, depression, confusion and death. Music and songwriting with The Spitz are effective ways for residents and staff alike to express themselves and process what they are feeling.
The sound of Arthur Lea on the piano soon brought some residents down to the garden. S, who has previously written five songs with the Spitz, told us about the swimming pool therapy she had to help her regain the use of her leg. This inspired the start of a new song, based around the dream-like image of walking in water. Reflecting on her past and putting it into art was therapeutic for S.
G was another keen participant. The combination of stories from his interesting life, and his friendship with his pet bird Jacko, was an opportunity for The Spitz’s first French song! We played around with Parisian chords and struggled with French lyrics (Jacko happily rhymes with the French for bird - oiseau), efforts which G said were “touching.”
Even though adapting to Covid safe ways of working meant that we didn’t see as many residents, the work that we did do that day was powerful for everyone involved. We have two new songs to work on with two different residents — a unifying project. S’s genuinely heart-felt thanks at the end of her session and G's shy positivity were definitely worth getting a little bit rained on!
By Kate Millett
24th June 2020
Musicians: Dom Pipkin (piano and vocals) and Graham Hughes (bass)
On the hottest day of the year so far, we returned to Bridgeside Lodge’s garden for a canal side concert with musicians Dom Pipkin and Graham Hughes. It felt like all of our Covid cancelled summer holidays had come to us as residents and staff sat under bright yellow umbrellas (coincidentally the same colour as the Spitz banner), and locals sat along the canal path sunbathing and enjoying the concert.
A busker on the canal path was playing as we set up. When we popped over to apologise for interrupting his session he said he’d seen our banner and already googled The Spitz: “I can see what you guys do is something magic and inspiring. I couldn’t compete with that!” It was wonderful to get an outside perspective on our events.
Many of the residents who weren’t able to come down to the garden danced on the balconies and waved down to us. J, who had been taking guitar lessons pre-lockdown with The Spitz, brought his guitar down and sat grinning from ear to ear, plucking it’s strings.
B, who has only been at Bridgeside Lodge for a couple of weeks, told us that he is a huge jazz fan: “Before I came here, my favourite thing to do on a Saturday was pop down to my local for a beer and listen to their live jazz. This afternoon is as close to that as I can hope for and I’ve really enjoyed it.” Bringing back the comfort of those memories is an important part of our work. We want to ease the trauma caused by isolation and loss, and thus promote well-being.
By Kate Millett
19th June 2020
Musicians: Arthur Lea (piano and vocals) and Tanya Cracknell (violin)
The sun finally came out for our concert in Bridgeside Lodge's garden (BSL) on the 19th of June. We had had a couple of low key events at the begining of the month but this was our first full concert post-lockdown. Led by Arthur on the keyboards and Tanya on the violin, the residents and staff enjoyed a few hours of music and singing. However, as we attempted socially distanced conversation it became apparent that the recent and ongoing trauma of Covid-19 and lockdown would not be easily forgotten.
Fatma Makalo, the Centre Manager, said the past few months had been overwhelmingly lonely. Having The Spitz back, albeit in an adapted, experimental setting, was a comfort and support to the staff. Fatma told us how much they had missed us: “both your work and your friendship is invaluable.”
BSL welcomed eight new residents in the past few weeks. It has been much more difficult for these residents to settle in and transition into care home life without the comfort of regular family visitors. Our music session helped to unify the community as new residents came out into the garden for the first time and met their neighbours. G, one new resident, told us that when he heard the music from the 3rd floor balcony, it was the first time he felt able to come downstairs and join in: “I’ve found it hard to make friends so far, but there is something special and inviting about live music. Today it’s brought us all together.”
The BSL family needs our music, support and help now more than ever to heal, recover and remember happier times. O, a resident who has often taken part in our activities, told us that these sessions are much more than just a break and distraction for them: “Sitting here in the garden among the flowers, listening to the music and occasional birdsong, I can close my eyes and imagine I’m back at home.”
By Kate Millett