Longlands

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Longlands was the second extended care home residency in myself and Nic’s Live Music Now career. At ten concerts, it was longer than our previous one in Surbiton and there were moments during the early weeks where Nic and I wondered whether we could maintain effectiveness as performers there over such an extended period. Our feeling now that it is finished is emphatically that far from our effectiveness diminishing, it was continuing to increase week on week and we don’t feel at all that it had simply ‘run its course’. As with Surbiton, we felt a real emotion upon leaving Longlands for the last time, as did some residents and activity co-ordinator Angie. We’ve felt its absence since it finished and feel that had we continued to visit every week it would have continued to have a hugely positive impact and perhaps thrown up more surprises!

The early sessions, while full of rewards, were also challenging at times. After our Surbiton residency we had an idea of the way that we would approach this one. Previously an emphasis on jazz repertoire had worked very well, with an attentiveness and openness to requests of pieces from residents, so prior to our arrival at Longlands we had this in the backs of our mind and expected similar repertoire to be the key to success. In summary, we rather thought that the key to successful repertoire in this environment was that it was music familiar to the residents.

During the first session we were surprised to observe that the residents at Longlands seemed to initially respond very well to faster and more frenetic pieces, generally seeming less conscious of the genre and origin of pieces and more to the energy conveyed in their performance. On the whole the group responded very well to us being there, though a couple seemed a bit confused by our presence as is only to be expected. We were perhaps a little taken aback that the songs that had worked very well at Surbiton (in large part because the majority of residents recognised them) were not hits with this group in quite such an immediately obvious way.

As is often the case a number of residents at Longlands stood out more immediately than others, more than anything based on their style of engagement as perhaps being more verbal or participatory. These individuals engaged us in conversation during the session and afterwards, with an open interest in who we were, and where we were from. It was important because of this to be attentive to the variety of levels and ways of engaging and participating that is characteristic of this type of setting. The audience at Longlands was fairly large and the residents spread over a large room with lots of space between us. Maintaining a connection with as many residents as possible has been an important aspect of our approach to performing, and establishing regular eye contact and smiles with those less mobile less mobile has proved incredibly rewarding, revealing that those less likely to dance or sing are still fully engaged and participating in the broader experience of the music happening before them.

Specifically, Silvia was immediately such fun with very funny quick wit and very keen to join in with singing and having a chat. Joyce was another one to get involved early voicing how much she enjoyed live music. A wonderfully mischievous smile on the face of [name escapes me sorry!] not to mention some seriously good tambourine playing were delights throughout the entire residency. And Margie with her moves! She would dance most of the sessions and really let herself go. She would sometimes seem overcome with emotion at the music and it obviously really moved her.

However, there was definitely one lady who was not so easy to handle early on! Christine asked myself and particularly Nic repeatedly what his name was, but seemed not to hear when he told her; even when we stopped playing and he sat near her she would not hear. This caused a little disruption to the performance, as the lady seemed agitated, and it was causing some annoyance to the other residents. Yet following the session he went up to her and she asked his name again, when he told her she heard perfectly and proceeded to have a very normal conversation! To this day, we’ve never quite figured out whether this apparent lack of hearing was a deliberate act or not, but I wonder whether, subconsciously, it was an attempt to ‘mark territory’ as we were after all coming into her home. It was very noticeable that with each week she was far less like this and smiled at us as we made our way round the room as we were playing. Having observed her behaviour the rest of the time, she does have a tendency to shout ‘oi’ a lot! But ultimately she began to say how much she enjoyed us coming and thus represents a big success story of the residency.

During some of the early sessions, one or two difficulties began to emerge. One was that a lady called Edna was quite vocal about what she wanted and didn’t want to hear. She decided that we were playing the same music every week and was fed up of it (I might add this wasn’t terribly true!). She recognised Hammer and Nail from previous weeks and this was pretty much the basis of her comments! Not only did we have to try and see if we could do songs she liked (which were basically 70’s rock/pop therefore not particularly known to any of the others!) but we also had to try and keep the concert moving as other residents were getting restless. Happily, Edna seemed much happier in the last few weeks and said she enjoyed the concerts.

Another slight difficulty was Ellen’s obsession with Show Me The Way To Go Home. Ellen is a delightful Scottish lady who simply loved us coming and would be the first to get up and dance or sing along. But this particular song was one she would sing over and over again, sometimes even along with different songs and once or twice it drew tutting from other residents who said they were sick of it. We tried to perform the song every couple of weeks and in the end it seemed to work and interestingly, Ellen sang it much less as the weeks went on and became more familiar with the material we had brought to the group. She really appreciated Loch Lomond which proved a big hit over the last few weeks as everyone knew it, but Ellen particularly appreciated the fact we dedicated a Scottish song to her.

One slightly bizarre problem was dear old Ian’s fondness for throwing his percussion along to the music! He was enthusiastic from the start of the residency and enjoyed dancing in his chair before taking to percussion. The only trouble of course with him throwing it is he also then dropped it, invariably on someone else which caused the odd ruction here and there. It was frankly quite hilarious but probably didn’t help terribly with resident harmony. However, as the weeks went on he seemed to concentrate more on singing along which was lovely to see.

Around week 4 or 5, it became apparent that we were really becoming a hit! We rotated the repertoire but certain songs seemed to be becoming popular with the group. For instance, a majority of residents were joining in with End of The Line by George Harrison with its cheerful and simple chorus of ‘alright’ by the end of the residency, a real achievement for us. Dancing became a big part of it all as well and more and more were joining in each week. We were even applauded into the room each week at this point and stayed for longer chats afterwards.

A very noticeable aspect was how much the residents smiled as we came nearer to them. As mentioned earlier, eye contact and closeness are important parts of performing in this environment for us and never has it been truer than at Longlands. The residents really seemed to enjoy it as we came up close and as each week passed almost every single resident smiled more and more. One lady who is sadly not capable of talking coherently anymore amazed the care home manager by reacting so strongly to Nic or I coming up close just showing how music can engage anyone at any time.

Another resident who really seemed to gain a lot from our visits was Margaret. She had a very wide knowledge of music and knew an amazing amount of lyrics, arguably more than I did! She was always very genial and said how much she appreciated us taking the time to talk to her as well as play. She requested a couple of songs during the residency which we did which again helped to establish a bond. A gentleman called Bill also loved us coming and was very enthusiastic in joining in and seemed to really get a kick out of singing along to songs he had not previously known.

Angie, who was wonderful from the start, summed up our feeling towards music in care homes after the last session when she got very emotional and said how lovely it was to see the residents look so happy. It was wonderful that they got so much out of our visits and I firmly believe that isn’t just the music but the fact that we did move around the room, make eye contact, danced and injected energy into what we did. I’m not convinced just standing there playing would have much impact – the energy and the infectious enthusiasm is what really made it along with the music and of course the talking afterwards. I think that care home residents feel appreciated when young musicians go in and show a genuine interest in their lives. It is wonderful that music can bring smiles to their faces and allow them to really enjoy themselves and express themselves. We had a wonderful time too of course and the good feeling from us and them fed into each other to create a wonderful atmosphere. Though it seemed like it wouldn’t be quite the same success as Surbiton (or Hitchin which we did around the same time), it emphatically did and we are really missing it.

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