When Ron’s dad was living in a memory care unit, Ron and I talked with the residents and their families, learning about their favorite songs. We orchestrated a sing-along and had fun working with everyone and putting together a scrapbook of each resident’s special tunes. The combination of music and conversation created a sense of community for us all. Julian West, who we met on a recent trip to London, is creating community through engaging people in music and dance. We really love the way he weaves the two art forms together and wanted to share his easy and adaptable ideas with you.
Julian West had no idea what would happen at the care facility, but he trusted it would be something wonderful. An accomplished oboist and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Julian assembled a violist, a composer, a dancer, and an artist to share energy and their art with people who are living with dementia.
“This was an experiment to see what could happen,” Julian says. “We worked completely improvisationally.”
Once a week, for eight weeks, the troupe came to the residential care home and created a living arts experience with residents and staff. They began by inviting everyone to choose a percussion instrument, such as rain sticks, bells, shakers, tambourine, etc.
“We had a musical conversation,” Julian says. “One person made a sound and another answered. We also chatted a lot. People commented on the music or expressed an emotion or impression.”
The musicians added their instruments and the staff and residents joined in, through percussion and voice. They made fascinating sounds, like an improv jazz singer might do. The dancer twirled around in the center of their circle. Her free movements gave the group a focal point and inspired others to explore various movements.
“I let go of preconceptions and tried to create an open atmosphere,” Julian says.
The artists’ openness helped the “conversation” grow and blossom.
One woman who was living with dementia held up a tambourine, keeping it still and gazing at it as though it were a beautiful and revered object.
Julian’s first thought was, “She doesn’t know it’s a musical instrument”.
“I let that thought go,” he says. “I saw how expressive she was. Her interaction with the tambourine was beautiful and profound and she allowed us all to see the instrument differently.”
Even if you don’t have your own musicians and dancers at home, you can still create this supportive and creative atmosphere.
- Share a few percussion instruments, put on some music you both like, and make some joyful noises. Experiment with bee-bop syllables to add a sense of freedom.
- After the song, talk about the experience, what you liked, what you felt, and any other impressions that came up.
- Consider inviting a “guest dancer,” someone who likes to move to music, or a child of a friend who’s taking dancing lessons. Go ahead and add your own moves.
- Invite friends and family to join you. You’ll have something to laugh, and sing, and talk about.
For more information about Julian’s work, visit: www.julianwest.co.uk