Room to Room Music: Bringing music to care home residents online

Posted on: October 15, 2020 in: Uncategorised

Written by Fi Johnstone, Participation Producer

Before the Covid-19 pandemic stopped us all in our tracks, Room to Room Music was an in-person project with complete emphasis on CLS musicians interacting with care home residents face to face and in the moment. As we enter winter, it’s clear that Room to Room Music sessions won’t take place on site whilst residents are at risk of infection, steering us to explore how we can satisfy our eagerness to provide musical connection for isolated residents whilst we are unable to visit them in person.

Care homes have been hugely impacted in the past seven months, with staff shortages due to illness and shielding, an extra workload due to testing and cleaning, the elimination of family visits and of course the catastrophic death rates of people in this sector. Despite all of this, and more, our partners at Jewish Care are beginning to explore ways to continue working with us remotely and to “bring some life back into the homes.”

Pre-pandemic, a Room to Room Music day would see the team setting early alarms and heading to the northern line during the morning rush towards a leafy north London suburb. There, we would be welcomed by the familiar smell of toast and coffee as residents ate their breakfast, and the care home staff worked quickly to ensure everyone got the right number of sugar cubes in their tea.

Nowadays, we are accepting the challenge of capturing the essence of our responsive, in-the-moment music sessions and taking them onto a video call. We began this exploration in a conversation with our project lead Caroline Welsh and a team of eight CLS musicians in July. Since then, we have been in a period of research and development into ways to connect with residents, staff and each other through in-the-moment music-making, conversation and the shared creation of meaningful experiences, online.

In our first research and development (R&D) session, we set out to establish some shared values for the development of this work, which would then serve as a reference point throughout the project. Led by Caroline, the musicians discussed what they felt was at the heart of Room to Room Music, including the importance of establishing a connection with the residents, allowing a sense of an equal, shared space and ensuring that people feel they are seen and valued. A few of the team had also worked on our Comfortable Classical at Home series during lockdown and reflected on the window to the outside world that this series offered to our audiences. The musicians shared stand out moments from past projects: connecting with a person who at first seemed disconnected from the world around them, using music to change the atmosphere of the shared lounge, and creating a piece of music based on a story shared by a resident. How could we capture all of this in a Zoom call?

Waffy (clarinet) and Chris (bassoon)

The simple answer is that we can’t exactly replicate the project. We can’t replicate the experience of being face to face with another human being. We can’t replicate the power of live music, or of connection through touch, eye contact and real human contact. However, there are ways to best use this opportunity to have an impact on the wellbeing of isolated residents and care home staff. For example, the musicians are considering how to position themselves so that their instrument can be seen in their Zoom window, and how they might alter that position when they are engaging in conversation. Caroline has introduced us to the idea of using our hands to dance along to a piece of music, and how simple images and props can be introduced to create a more sensory experience for the viewer, opening up the possibilities of new ways to be creative with these interactions.

We’re discovering opportunities to develop this project that we wouldn’t necessarily have come across if the challenge of working online hadn’t been presented to us. Again, linking in with our Comfortable Classical at Home series, musicians have been bringing their personal experiences and interests as starting points for musical exploration, including inspiration from a birdwatching weekend and memories of a holiday in Spain. Although it’s not new for musicians to be inspired by events and encounters when creating, they are now required to guide the direction of the session more while on video call, which brings opportunity to talk about and share these ideas.

Through these research and development sessions over the last four months, the artistic team have been able to support each other, reflect on and develop ways of working while getting to grips with this unfamiliar territory. They’re now at the point where they’re ready to share their music, once again, with the care home residents and staff, bringing an offering of musical connection to the outside world.

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