The Magic of Music

16 Aug 2017

Music is a big part of life at Jewish Care. With its benefits for happiness and wellbeing, as well as its positive impact on the brain and body, it plays many different roles within our day centres and our homes.

Whether it is singing groups; therapeutic music sessions for clients living with dementia; volunteers who come in to sing or play or visiting choirs and musicians, at Jewish Care we see first-hand how music connects people and improves well-being.

One of the first established singing groups, at the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre in Hendon, was created over 20 years ago.

Jewish Care’s Moshe Teller, who runs the weekly group, explains: “We sing Hebrew songs which really brings everyone together; whatever their background they are all singing from the same hymn sheet metaphorically and practically.

“Whether or not members know the words, the melody is often familiar and hopefully reminiscent of some of the good aspects of their childhood.

“It’s lovely when everyone performs together, without having to think too much about past experiences in negative terms, but instead about positive experiences that they have had through their lives.”

Esther Rosen, who has been attending for nearly 14 years, says she loves both the singing and the social aspect.

“Moshe is wonderful. He treats everyone the same, whether they sing, don’t sing, have a good voice or not. If the words are too difficult to read he tells us to just sing ‘la, la, la’, which is what I sometimes do. It gets me out of the house and now I wouldn’t miss it.”

At the Southend and Westcliff Community Centre, the Jewish Care choir meets every Tuesday under the direction of Jewish Care recreational assistant Jackie Davies.

Now in its third year, Jackie says: “We have between 12 and 20 weekly, most of them are in their 80s or 90s and they love it. It’s really all about the feel-good factor.

“Some of our clients have dementia but the minute they hear songs from their youth, they know every single word.”

The Southend choir is one of many that take part in Jewish Care’s annual sing-off. This highlight in the calendar year sees on average over 150 residents, members, volunteers and staff from different homes and day centres coming together in their groups for a big lunch and a light-hearted battle of the singing bands.

As a communal organisation, Jewish Care also welcome community -based choirs and musical volunteers into our facilities. Among them, the JC Singers is perhaps the longest-running.

Organiser and conductor Adela Lassman established the group, that meets at the Michael Sobell Centre, 20 years ago. She says: “Originally we just used to meet and sing and then it was suggested we tour other care homes and Jewish Care centres to entertain. Now we alternate each week between rehearsing and performing – with the money we collect from performances going to Jewish Care.”

“We always welcome new members – we are particularly looking for male singers. Along the way we have all become friends so often we get-together for tea or to celebrate

the chagim.”

At Jewish Care’s Betty and Asher Loftus Centre in Barnet, classical musicians from the Concordia Foundation give regular concerts for residents at the three affiliated homes.

Ffion Roberts, from Jewish Care’s Living Well Team, says:

“The concerts are now sponsored by family members, often in memory of someone who lived in one of the homes.

Each concert is different: violinists, pianists, operatic singers.”

Many of our care home residents especially look forward to volunteers who come in to share their musical talents.

Jenna Morris, aged 15, is one such volunteer. As part of her Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, she visited Kun Mor and George Kiss home in Barnet weekly to sing with a group of about 15 residents.

Jenna, a pupil at St Albans High School, says: “I have loved it because I can see the residents are enjoying themselves. I choose songs which are from their youth, like We’ll Meet Again, and I hand out song sheets so that they can join in if they want to. Some even get up and start dancing.”

Besides its enjoyability and community-building benefits, music at Jewish Care has an important therapeutic purpose for people living with dementia.

Singing for Memory is a programme developed specifically for clients with dementia and their carers, to help sustain mental and psychological wellbeing. Weekly sessions, predominantly for members of the community, are held at the Sam Beckman Day Centre at Betty and Asher Loftus Centre and at Otto Schiff Care Home in Golders Green’s Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus.

Susan Dawson, Jewish Care’s Community Dementia Projects Lead, explains: “Partly this singing programme is aimed at reducing the isolation that dementia can bring.

“However, the sessions also build and preserve the memory of music in the brain. Music memory is one of the first parts of the brain to form in utero and incredibly it is rarely degraded by dementia. Familiar words and tunes often stay.”

Led by a professional singer, with the support of volunteers, the sessions are structured, starting with tea and biscuits and a chat. Ideally, each client comes with their carer.

Susan adds: “Over the sessions we get to the know clients and carers and as the relationship builds, this regular contact can also be a gateway to other Jewish Care services. Often, we reach people at an early stage of the disease and we can point them towards information and put support in place.”

Within the residential homes, Jewish Care’s Participatory Arts programme works in a similar way to Singing for Memory, using creativity to find new approaches to engaging with residents.

Caroline D’Souza, Creative Arts Development Manager, explains: “The aim is to create meaningful activities which enhance quality of life – by increasing self-esteem and sense of self, as well as interaction with others. Whether it is singing, music or other art forms, the facilitator takes their direction from the residents, focusing on their strengths.

“We encourage care staff to join in because it can give them a different perspective on the people they care for,” says Caroline.

“For example, in one music group, one of the carers commented on how a particular resident held a conducting baton even though she couldn’t grip a spoon to feed herself. As a result, they tried successfully to get the resident to feed herself, improving her day-to-day independence.

“With these sessions, there isn’t always a planned outcome –rather it is a more holistic approach to individual residents, in turn leading to a better quality of care.”