This year sees the tenth anniversary of our partnership with the Philharmonia Orchestra to co-produce Hear and Now.
What started out as a project to primarily explore the relevance of an international symphony orchestra to people living in Bedford, has evolved into an award-winning community project that unites young people with older people living with dementia in shared music-making, with profound benefits for all.
Senior Creative Producer, Stuart Bruce, reflects on its success and the legacy it is creating:
There has been plenty of media coverage over the last few months about the benefits of musical activity to older people and particularly those living with dementia. TV programmes such as the BBC’s Our Dementia Choir have shown the extent of music’s power to help reduce the impact of symptoms such as depression and agitation and in turn the isolation that those living with dementia feel.
We have long realised the power of music to support people of all ages, and particularly those who are older, to live more fulfilling lives. This year sees the tenth anniversary of our intergenerational Hear and Now project in partnership with the Philharmonia Orchestra. What started out as a project to primarily explore whether an international symphony orchestra could be relevant to people who had different cultural interests and patterns of life, has evolved into an award-winning, intergenerational community project that unites the old and the young in music making and creativity.
Working in the diverse community of the Queen’s Park area of Bedford with Music 4 Memory (The Tibbs Dementia Foundation’s singing group), Fusion Youth Singing (a diverse young choir), and other community partners, Hear and Now supports valuable relationships for people living with dementia and their carers and forges understanding between generations and communities.
Initiated in 2009 by Orchestras Live and the Philharmonia Orchestra, the project is firmly established as a cultural asset in the community. Working with artistic leaders and players from the Philharmonia, the participants have been involved in a sequence of projects, creating their own music, lyrics and poetry and performing at venues including Bedford Town Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, London. To date, more than 700 people have taken part.
So, what has this intergenerational journey taught us?
The project has always been about giving people a voice and a safe space to explore their own creativity. It has also been about bringing together different people to share their life experiences and aspirations. This exploration of memories, language and identity has been a rich source of material which has been moulded into some extraordinary songs and instrumental music. Young and older people have found themselves on stage with world class musicians, singing, playing, narrating and even conducting. By creating music together in this way, orchestral music has become directly relevant to everyone.
The social outcomes have been even more profound. For the older people, the creative work not only gave them a new means of self-expression, often with a positive impact on the relationship with their carer, but it has also enlivened the minds of people living with dementia. As one participant commented:
“You found yourself remembering what you had forgotten!”
And what about the direct impact on the lives of the project participants?
The project has shown that people living with dementia are not only capable of creating quality music, but can learn, can take risks, and can benefit profoundly by being part of a dynamic community where their contribution is valued.
For the young people, making music with much older people has given them insight into the lives of a generation they know little about, and had a positive effect on their perceptions, understanding and respect. Over time the integrated approach of Hear and Now saw the demarcation lines between the groups fade, becoming more of a unified ‘company’.
The impact on the organisations involved has also been significant. Music 4 Memory’s umbrella body, the Tibbs Dementia Foundation, was inspired to broaden its reach and establish satellite dementia choirs elsewhere, embedding an intergenerational ethos through regular sessions with young people from Fusion and local schools.
In the orchestral sector, Hear and Now inspired a separate inclusive project in Leicester with the Philharmonia Orchestra as well as a music and dementia project run by the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway.
Research is about to be undertaken by the University of Bedfordshire, investigating the impact of this intergenerational approach on participants’ sense of community and well-being, as well as the influence of such work on professional artists and musicians.