Songwriting with older people in care settings
Klawitter Theatre Group delivered songwriting projects with older people who visit the day care facilities at Henrietta Older Peoples Service and with residents in Belmont House Nursing Home, both based in Dublin, from June 2018 until December 2019.
Older people who visit the day care facilities in Henrietta Older Peoples Service; residents in Belmont House Nursing Home; the care assistant and activities co-ordinator, staff and managers in Henrietta Street; volunteers in Henrietta Street; activities manager and activity service provider in Belmont House.
- To write songs with older people in care settings
- To encourage older people to tell their stories
- To engage volunteers and staff at Henrietta Street
- To engage participants in singing and music making
- To provide a model for contemporary creative practice
- To test a different service provider approach
Klawitter Theatre Group, in collaboration with Henrietta Street and Belmont House, explored the suitability of songwriting in a day care facility and in nursing home setting respectively. In Belmont House, the project took place in collaboration with their activities leader.
The project was based on Turtle Song by Turtle Key Arts, UK. The songwriting was informed by their workshops and a method that was developed by Dr. Rod Paton of LifeMusic UK to unlock the musical potential in participants.
We followed these principles:
Everyone is musical. Making music is an act of trust.
There are no wrong notes in music.
Every contribution has a meaning.
Our criteria were as follows:
Participation was in agreement with the managers of Henrietta Street and Belmont House.
Contact with residents was non-intrusive, voluntary and monitored.
Conversations were informal and grew spontaneously out of chatting and after singing some well-known songs.
Lyrics were collected using a given theme, written down and it was agreed collectively which lyrics would be turned into verses.
Melodies for the songs were agreed upon collectively.
Everyone was involved and had a say.
The participants met once a week and there was a staff member at each session. With the help of professional musicians and volunteers, participants wrote the lyrics and composed the music for their own song cycle, ending in a live performance for friends and family which was filmed for DVD. For the last performance at Belmont House, one of the activity providers, who runs a choir there, led the show.
The project was led by Hedda Kaphengst, Director of Klawitter Theatre Group. The project was supported by Dr. Rod Paton who acted as a musician, composer and adviser for four days. Sean Meyler, care assistant and activities co-ordinator at Henrietta Street, was another musician and co-facilitator.
Five songs were written with older people from Henrietta Street and three with residents in Belmont House during 2019. A final performance took place in Belmont House to an audience of staff and relatives in December 2019 as part of the Christmas activities. In Henrietta Street, there were two final sing-along performance of all the songs before the Christmas break.
- Journaling after the sessions
- Recorded interviews with participants
- Evaluation meetings with Sean Meyler and Rebecca Mullen of Henrietta Older Peoples Service
- Critical reflection with Sean Meyler and participants
- Creative reflection with Sean Meyler
- Feedback from audiences
Notes from our Journal:
5 JULY 2019
Facilitators: Hedda and Sean
Volunteers: Sebastian, Darius, Georgie
We sang: You Are My Sunshine and In Dublin’s Fair City. We have a chorus and found a melody. Key of C. Darius played the drums. Participation was lively and good singing along.
Sean’s notes: Great interest from seniors in attending workshop prior to afternoon. Delighted to hear Hedda returning for another session. I feel the group were enthusiastic especially when we found the melody and they didn’t mind repeating this melody reinforcing the tale of the old grey bus. All the group took part vouching ideas and comments. The addition of Darius on the drum filled in the song thus far giving a steady but unobtrusive pace to the lyrics. The seniors readily accept this is a work in progress and changes of mind are acceptable and indeed encouraged.
Perhaps introducing some of the instruments to give greater participation? As with W and his spoons?
15 NOVEMBER 2019
Volunteers: Darius and Frances
We had sad news. D, one of our most engaged and regular participants, died suddenly two nights previous. Hedda receives a call from Rebecca on her way in. It was agreed that she should go in anyway.
The group sang some gospel songs and Hedda suggested to write a little song in memory of D. We had lively participation and JK was very engaged and talked and sang along. *Sadly JK also passed away a week later.
Reflection by Sean Meyler, care assistant and activities co-ordinator
Well, what can I say? A very successful project with good results does not adequately describe the impact the songwriting activity has had on the seniors in the day centre service. As is quite normal, introducing a completely new activity to the seniors can be difficult and greeted with some scepticism but from the start the seniors group took to the idea of creating their own songs with a bit of assistance. Thinking outside the box, they wove their ideas [into] lyrics from their varied lives and experience leading to many discussions on their past and their hopes for the future. They freely shared their thoughts and offered constructive criticism throughout.
It was a delight to see their response to their songs as we added melody and asked them to take part in spontaneous music making using the instruments. Our thoughts are of course with the few seniors who passed away this year who were remembered in a song created by the group.
Personally, it has been an education. It has further shown me the creative, joyful nature of our participants who, with a little guidance, will share and bring their desires to be heard in song and music.
My sincerest thanks to all involved and especially Hedda, that blond girl as she is known to some of the seniors. Thank you for your infectious enthusiasm, your caring inclusive workshops that have brought joy and laughter to all those who took part.
Documentation & Dissemination
A journal was kept throughout the project.
Two video recordings were made in Henrietta Street and participants will receive a DVD in 2020. (This process was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.)
A video snippet of the Bus song (work in progress) can be viewed here:
A report was written for the manager of Henrietta Older Peoples Service.
Date of Publication
Henrietta Street: June 2018 - December 2019
Belmont House: May 2019 - December 2019
Klawitter Theatre Group Ltd.
Henrietta Older Peoples Service, Belmont House Nursing Home, Lifemusic UK
HSE/National Lottery Fund (funder of the Senior Services)
A donation by Dr. Rod Paton
A donation by Hedda Kaphengst
Hedda Kaphengst, Rod Paton, Sean Meyler
Older People, Training & Education
Nature of Project
Collaborative/ participatory, Performance, Training/ Continuous Professional Development