I wrote this, and my manager Graham kindly read it, for the service last Sunday about the music work we do with people living with dementia and their carers.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Twenty voices in unison releasing for a few minutes the individual identities we brought into the room. On Wednesday mornings at Singing For The Mind we put aside whatever descriptions we arrived with: “person living with dementia”, “carer”, “community worker” and lift our hearts in song together, joining in an act of communal music-making.
It may sound obvious, but singing together is different from talking together. On alternate weeks, we do talk informally together over games and crafts, coffee and biscuits and those conversations are important to help people remember who they are and get to know each other better. It is good to talk. But we try to balance that with the opportunity to all do the same thing at the same time, to transcend the separation that comes with this illness and lose ourselves in the one-ness of group singing. It is not only a rare opportunity for physical expression of the spirit but also an affirmation of our community.
Half of the people in the room may struggle to remember what they did yesterday. The other half deal with the challenges that this condition presents, some of them with loved ones that they’ve known for half a century.
Together, we not only create a bigger sound, but we also create a space in which the strongest can carry those who are feeling physically or mentally weaker. Working with familiar words, melodies and rhythms awakens parts of us all that we might ordinarily allow to doze off.
There isn’t any hard work to be done, the music is simple and the sounds we make are not always sophisticated but when we join in song we join in spirit whether that’s singing along to a rousing gospel choir’s “Amazing Grace” or just joining in with the “clap, clap” in “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five!