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!
I started working as Community Worker at Guildford United Reformed Church in the middle of last November. It was fun trying to find my feet working in a church for the first time in the weeks running up to Christmas. I’ve settled into a bit more of a routine now and started writing weeknotes, primarily for the members of the church to know what I’m up to and what I’m thinking about. But I’m going to share them here too (hopefully earlier than Tuesday in future!) for you, the readers of ye olde perficked patthe weblogge, whose thinking continues to help make my thinking.
Weeknotes for week 2 of 2020
A brief summary of the week beginning 13th January – I aim for brevity but that can end up opaque, so if there’s anything you want to understand better, please do send me a message or pop in and see me at the church. I’m mostly here weekday mornings.
- I like to start the week with my friends from the Bowls Club who come in on Monday morning to play Rummikub or Scrabble. There’s always room for more, especially for keen Scrabble players, and I’m sure we could make room for other games if there was enough demand. Bowls proper happens on Thursday mornings in the hall, regularly attracting at least a dozen players.
- I took part in an Older People’s Network meeting organised by Voluntary Action South West Surrey. Very interesting for me to see how many other people are wrestling with similar issues and heartening to know that there are lots of potential collaborations we could do.
- I’m starting to think about how to build further on some of the things we do and how we know that we’re doing the right things as well as doing things right. I’m looking at all of the activities and trying to see how they could be even better, as well as building some rigour into how we assess the success of activities. I like to frame that as “what’s the best that this group could possibly be?” to stretch our imaginations about what can be achieved, even if we never quite reach perfection!
- I spent Saturday in Safeguarding Training, thinking about ensuring the well-being of all the people who use the church. While not wanting to drown myself and others in paperwork, there are definitely things we could be more clear about and be better at including it in the process we go through whenever we set something new up.
- This Sunday was Church Meeting, which is a great chance for me to see people from the congregation that I might not get much time with in the day to day work. We had a very interesting discussion about being a more eco-friendly church and this is a strong theme in the work I want to do. I believe it can be an important bridge, especially between the generations. The challenge is to create opportunities for us to do our bit on climate change without pushing all the work onto members and volunteers who already have more than enough to do. So I’ll be thinking creatively about how we collaborate with others and bring new people in to help around this important issue.