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Participatory music-making at St. Joseph’s Care Centre

Musician Eamon Sweeney facilitated participatory music-making sessions for residential and daycare clients of St. Joseph’s Centre, South County Dublin, in 2012-2013. The centre provides holistic care for older people who have illnesses associated with ageing, primarily people with a diagnosis of dementia.

The artist was supported by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Arts Office and the HSE.

Participants

Participants included clients of the daycare facility and residential clients. More than a dozen residents would usually take part together with visiting family members, nursing staff and pastoral staff. The numbers would vary depending on residents' engagement with scheduled therapies or other occupations.

Aims

The aim of the project was to provide a high-quality music-based participatory arts experience for the residential and daycare clients.

Objectives

  • To deliver 13 interactive sessions for clients over a six-month period in 2012-2013
  • To work collaboratively with the service users and staff at St. Joseph’s Centre and, where appropriate, families of the service users
  • To be cognisant of ethical issues, approaches and practical aspects in working with residential and daycare clients
  • To incorporate a reflective practice framework to enable key learnings to be documented

Methods

The artist worked in consultation with staff at the centre to devise a timetable based on weekly two-hour morning visits. This timetable included separate sessions for daycare and residential clients. The sessions were carried out with the participation of the staff, in particular the activities coordinator.

Daycare Service

  • The emphasis was on creating music with the clients, both songs they would suggest and songs the artist introduced. Clients proposed songs dating from the First World War to the 1970s.
  • The clients played musical instruments – tuned and untuned percussion.
  • The artist would also perform solo guitar music.
  • Poetry was recited and musical accompaniment created with chime bars, ocean drums, rainsticks etc.

Residential Service

  • Participatory music-making with clients was overwhelmingly song-based.
  • Daycare users often migrated from their area to join in the music-making with residents.
  • Some residents would play percussion.
  • Occasionally residents, nursing staff and the artist would engage in movement and dance.
  • There were sporadic opportunities for intimate music-making on a one-to-one basis with residents.

Musical accompaniment to a church service followed these activities, with leading and accompanying hymns. This service incorporated instrumental devotional and meditative music. The session would end with some calm instrumental guitar music played by the artist, including pieces by J.S. Bach and Turlough O’Carolan, as well as traditional music.

Evaluation Methodology

The artist kept a reflective journal for the duration of the project and and used it throughout the planning, delivery and production stages. He also wrote a summary review and evaluation of the project from his perspective.

The artist conversed with the clients to learn which musical techniques and practices they found particularly enjoyable and beneficial.

There was regular consultation between the artist, Máire Davey of DLR Arts Office, the staff of St. Joseph's Centre and participants. An evaluation form and questionnaire were circulated to the staff at the centre and to families of participants.

Evaluation Outcomes

The evaluation highlighted the following outcomes:

  • The importance of a relaxed, calm, easy style of facilitation by the artist and a willingness to be flexible and versatile in choice of material and method of delivery.
  • Awareness and sensitivity on the part of the artist is vital with regard to responding to the setting and the requirements of individual clients.
  • The social interaction and participation inherent in making and listening to music together was beneficial to the clients.
  • The music engaged clients that were not usually social in other circumstances.
  • The music sessions had a relaxing effect on the clients and provided mental stimulation.
  • Variety in instrumention was valued by the clients – textural difference between chime bars, ocean drums, egg shakers, drums, tambourines, jingle bells etc.
  • The physical activity involved in singing and playing instruments was beneficial.
  • Music and poetry can bring forth pin-sharp memories: individual clients could remember lyrics and stanzas they knew in the past with clarity.
  • Sometimes an otherwise seemingly unresponsive participant would respond to a particular song or tune and begin to hum or sing along.
  • More frequent and longer sessions would be desirable.

From the artist's perspective, he valued the opportunity to facilitate and provide different types of musical interaction: sing-alongs, hymn accompaniment, creative musical accompaniment to poetry readings, solo ‘Classical’ guitar music and traditional Irish music. Each had their specific role, audience, and benefit.

Documentation & Dissemination

An artist's report was submitted to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLR) Arts Office and circulated to the staff of St. Joseph’s Centre.

Dates

November 2012–April 2013

Lead Organisation

St. Joseph’s Care Centre, Shankhill, County Dublin

Partners

HSE
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) County Council Arts Office

Funded By

HSE
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) County Council Arts Office

Location

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown

Artist(s)

Eamon Sweeney

Artform

Music

Context

Older People, People living with dementia

Nature of Project

Collaborative/ participatory


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