The final stage of any of our 6-week introductory training projects is when the participating staff take over the music sessions themselves. Music Therapist Hazel Child, who has led an introductory training project in a care setting for people living with dementia this year, writes about these final stages for her partners who work for Guild Care at Haviland House in Worthing:

“A bit like a Douglas Adams Trilogy, (of 5 books) we are now in the 9th week of our 6 week skill sharing project, and it is rolling to a triumphant conclusion. Despite the difficulties that beset us at every turn, the flexibility and perseverance of the staff has paid off, and all the sessions are being run by participants.

Today, Gill ran one session then Mary ran another; neither group had exactly the same people as any other week, but the core held, and music played continuously. Gill has created her own hello and goodbye songs, and they provide an excellent container for the group that will continue next week when I’m not here. Towards the end of the session, a lady who has always said, ‘I can’t possibly sing, I don’t have a good voice’ sang two gentle and delicate verses of ‘swing low, sweet chariot’ and it stilled us all. Earlier, we chased away the rain clouds with our loud and exuberant music!

Mary’s group had two people who attended for the first time last week. One was delighted with it, and played with gusto. The other is afraid and anxious, but stayed in the room and in her chair for the whole 40 minutes which is an achievement for her. She smiled at me as I sang – we are all ok.

Two and possibly three groups are planned for next week, as they are launched in the varied spaces around the Guildcare complex. I have been invited to visit them at the end of the month, to see how they are going…”

Staff and client absence led to the protraction of this project and we were so delighted by Hazel’s commitment to remain available to ensure all her staff reached the final stage of their training with her. She even popped back again last week to see how things have been going:

“I visited Haviland house today, to watch Gill B. run her music group. She had created a cosy space in a small lounge in the suite, with a circle of chairs and a pile of inviting looking instruments.

I recognised one chap immediately, J was the one constant presence during the entire project, and he has taken his seat early. A lady I have not yet met is in another chair, chatting to a member of staff. Gill is sad that she can’t wake T, another very regular member during the project. He is asleep in the living room and not responding to verbal requests. I pick up a tin whistle and slope off to find him. Sure enough, he is in the living room at the end of the hall, fast asleep on a sofa. I start to play inviting little phrases, and when he opens his eyes I remind him how great the music session is. Grumbling, he gets up and follows me. I feel like a latter day pied piper.

When the group is assembled, Gill launched into action like this was always part of her job.

A hello song (her own) involves everyone from the start. Then clapping activities that built up gently. Out came instruments, to be passed round and explored in turn, and then everyone plays together. T playfully tapped the new lady’s instrument and she reacted with stern reminders to follow the instructions! (we’ll come back to that)

The group coped well with passing one then two notes around a circle, something they haven’t done before. And then they copied rhythms Gill suggested, while she played an accompanying rhythm. To my utter amazement, Gill then produced a tiny keyboard onto her lap, and played songs requested and recognised by the residents. ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’, ‘Pack up your Troubles’ and ‘The Lambeth Walk’. People sang, and played along with their instruments. Then they changed their instruments and played some more, sometimes sharing across the circle. After this, we had some free improvisation, and the new lady had picked up well and truly that it is fine to play someone else’s instrument, sing made up words and generally initiate and accept connections. Gill improvised on her little keyboard, a range of sounds and fragments that held the group beautifully, and I watched T playing his drum with eyes closed, feeling a rhythm with his fingertips across the width of the skin, now fast, now hesitant, now strong.

The session ended with a Goodbye song that acknowledged everyone in turn, and to which everyone responded. Each person expressed their pleasure, and intention of returning.

As Gill and I packed away, and after I’d praised her to the skies of course, I mentioned that she’d kept her ability to play the keyboard rather quiet throughout the 9 week course.

‘I’d forgotten’, she said. ‘I was trying to learn the ukulele, and wasn’t getting on with it at all, and my daughter said, why don’t you get a keyboard, you already play that, and I thought, oh, Yes! And bought (the keyboard here) on ebay for £14…. And I bought the book of music hall songs.’

She’d prepared ahead by writing what number voice, what rhythm and what speed on each song she intended to use; and then had played the melody, with an appropriate background beat, without a stumble or hesitation – which rather suggests a few hours practice, as well.

We talked a bit about taking time and allowing things to develop, but what really shines through is that this has become a thing that will happen, and be looked forward to, and valued, and will gather momentum and strength, just like a skill sharing project is designed to do. Gill has found abilities in herself that were always there, just needed a bit of attention and reassurance to be used boldly, and to be connected with relevance to her evident caring skills. The previous week I spoke to Mary from the other unit and saw photos of the groups she and Paula are running together to the delight of the day centre, and I can’t wait to visit in person, and join in!

So, where next? I’m almost nervous because another organisation may not welcome me with the determination and enthusiasm of Guildcare, but surely, now I’ve seen how well it can work, I can encourage another home to take the risk and invest in such an obvious enhancement to life.

Thank you for your interest. Watch this space.”

Our heartfelt thanks to Hazel and the Guildcare staff, Managers, service users and their families at Haviland House and the Bradbury Centre in Worthing. We will remain in touch with them to support their continued use of music and very much hope we might be able to draw on Hazel’s proven training skills in another porject locally before too long.