Image shown: Lifemusic training with Henrietta Street Senior Services.

In 2017, Klawitter Theatre Group in collaboration with Dr. Rod Paton delivered a Lifemusic training course to senior citizens, staff and volunteers of the Henrietta Older Peoples Service based in Dublin 1. The training aimed to involve and empower older people in participatory music workshops
and to enable the participants to sustain and develop their own Lifemusic events after the project had finished.

Lifemusic (now Vox Anima ltd.) is dedicated to providing creative music-making sessions in a non-judgemental, inclusive and enjoyable atmosphere. Founded by Dr. Rod Paton, Lifemusic runs leadership and practitioner training courses, administers the Guild of Lifemusicians, and conducts research into the benefits of musical group improvising on how we think, feel, and relate to others.

The Lifemusic training with Henrietta Street Senior Services was carried out by Rod Paton over four weeks in summer 2017 and eight trainees successfully finished the training and received their Lifemusic certificate. Instant access instruments were bought for the centre and remain there for continued use in the context of music sessions.

The project was funded by the Community Foundation for Ireland and organised in connection with the Henrietta Street Senior Services which is run by the Daughters of Charity.

Lifemusic Methods  

Lifemusic (LM), as a concept and as a method, is embedded within a philosophy of community music which supports the notion that music has a function which lies beyond entertainment or art for art’s sake. Thus, the indicators for success would lie not with how well a performance is executed or how expertly musical texts are composed or analyzed but on how music functions as a supportive medium which enhances people’s well-being in various ways and empowers people living in a socially challenging environment. It is very much part of the LM ethos that the music would be integrated wherever possible into the daily routines of the institutions. In the case of Henrietta Street, for example, funds were invested in a set of instruments which were kept in the centre and are being used both for dedicated sessions once a month but are also available at other times.

The LM method has developed over many years of community music practice and research in creative learning. A typical workshop will involve 10-15 participants using instruments and voices to create unique and original creative improvisations. The tool which provides access to each improvisation is called a ‘holding form’, (Witkin op.cit., Paton, 1996, 2000) a device which is simple to understand, may even be introduced non-verbally and which automatically generates music. This practice has led to a fairly precise method which formed the basis of the Lifemusic training. The method sits on four theoretical pillars (precepts) and contains four practical ‘ingredients’. In facilitating groups, the LM practitioner/facilitator will demonstrate from the outset how these principles operate either through explaining them but, more effectively, through instant practice which reveals how the simplest of musical means (e.g. playing with sound and silence) can result in satisfying music.

The four precepts

Everyone is musical.
No distinction is made between people who may have had some musical training and those who have had none. The division of people into musical and non-musical is regarded as a social construction and Lifemusic deconstructs this cultural assumption.

There are no wrong notes in music.
This is meant literally. The concept of a “wrong note” is not only alien to the principles of Lifemusic but also felt to be illogical. Only when a musical “norm” is imposed externally (through some form of cultural imperative) can any sounds which do not conform to this norm be heard as “wrong”. Thus, if these norms are suspended, to be replaced by open choices, people are free to improvise music without any anxiety of “getting it wrong.”

Every sound has a meaning.
Whatever sounds people make in a LM session are accepted into the musical and social framework which belongs uniquely to that group and become part of an original musical language. The meaning of the music always relates to the nature and feelings of the group.

Making music is an act of trust.
Improvising together in small groups develops different levels of listening, both externally (consciously) and internally (unconsciously). This in turn, creates a sense of trust between participants.

The four ingredients

The essence of the LM method, improvisation, is an instantly accessible creative form of musicking which brings people directly into the moment, into the “here and now”.

LM is entirely about music making – actively creating as opposed to passively consuming. The LM method makes it possible for everyone to participate instantly and equitably. The use of “instant access” instruments, (tuned and untuned percussion, plus voices) and easily accessible patterns called ‘holding forms’, makes this participation possible.

Creating original music in groups develops a special kind of listening. As these connected layers of listening shift and change through the improvisation, the structure of the music also expands and deepens. This creates a web of communication which is non-verbal and through which each literally attunes to the other.

The intended outcomes of LM are therapeutic but it is not, in any strict sense, music therapy. Individuals may feel an enhanced sense of individual well-being whilst groups may experience an increased sense of togetherness and shared purpose.

Participant feedback 
One of the ladies appeared to be very shy and nervous and wasn’t sure if she wanted to complete the training at all but we were delighted to see her coming back the next day fully determined and in her own words “ anxious” to finish the training. There was a breakthrough for her on the second day when she suddenly took initiative and contributed creatively to the exercise.
“I feel very calm and joyful now. I am very anxious to do this now. It is good fun and we are in this together.”

The benefits that I perceived the  group to experience was a feeling of well-being, and illumination. – HK, LM practitioner working with older people in care homes

Further information 

Klawitter’s mission is to benefit the community through the provision of interactive entertainment by professional artists, to promote the wellbeing and enhance the quality of life of older people in residential care and healthcare settings and beyond. Klawitter works regularly in Counties Dublin, Wicklow, Cork and Carlow. We work with three to five musicians and deliver around 48 performances and workshops to approximately 780 people a month.

A case study on Lifesongs, a project by Klawitter Theatre Group in collaboration with Lifemusic can be viewed here:


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