Focus on Mindsong

Mindsong was the 2019 Gloucester Festival charity. The generosity of  festival patrons resulted in the amazing sum of £4500, half of which was donated through a collection after the final concert. This will enable us to use the power of music to reach even more people living with dementia, as well as those who care for them. Thank you.

Without the support of the Gloucester Festival, Mindsong – Music for Dementia simply would not have happened. Today we are an independent charity, with ten music therapists, and around 450 volunteers working across Gloucestershire and sometimes beyond. Yet, just 13 years ago when Mindsong was founded, dementia had not ‘come out of the closet’. The Gloucester Committee was bold enough to approve our first pilot project, taking music therapy to people with dementia in care homes in conjunction with the 2007 Festival, and we have continued to grow and diversify our interventions, maximising our impact on people with dementia ever since.

Music Therapy is our bedrock and the main focus of our dementia specialist therapists’ work has now moved from care homes into individuals’ own homes. At the same time we have grown our volunteer-led Meaningful Music singing groups which run in around 50 care homes across the county, ensuring that this sector is not neglected.

Photo SG interaction

Our therapists have now worked with more than 70 people with dementia, together with their carers (often a partner) through our Music Therapy @ Home service. The value of this innovative work has been recognised by the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, which is providing funding to extend the service.

“What struck me … was that a music therapist uses music as a way to connect with people who have lost the ability to connect and then they are able to deliver therapy and engage, I had no idea how incredibly skilled these allied health professionals are.” Senior Community Matron, Gloucestershire Frailty Service.

We recently presented our findings to the British Society of Music Therapists and Alzheimer’s Society’s conferences, and as a paper in the British Journal of Music Therapy (2019).

Since 2007, we have used subsequent Festivals, especially at Gloucester, as an opportunity to trial new work, and also to showcase what dementia means through commissioned musical works and the visual arts. The Worcester Festival in 2014 began a partnership between the Orchestra of the Swan and Mindsong; we have now trained three quarters of their players to work in care homes.

Just when it seemed that we had exhausted new opportunities, an exciting project for this year’s Festival presented itself: Turtle Song is an intergenerational song writing project, and a partnership between Turtle Key Arts, the Royal College of Music and English Touring Opera. It celebrates the creativity that all members of the group, whether living with or caring for someone with dementia, or young musicians can contribute. For Turtle Song Gloucester*, the Festival and Mindsong were additional partners, with Mindsong sponsoring a music therapist to take part. Both composer and director co-facilitated the group’s input on the theme, Three Hundred Years of the Three Choirs Festival. Songs recalled friendly rivalry between the three cities, the significance of our cathedrals and even a pub crawl.

Gathering bluebells, and losing them in the pond
Memories are the pictures in your mind.
A personal archive, always to keep alive,
Memories are the pictures in your mind.

The tenth and final session, a ‘sharing’ with families, friends and invited audience took part during Festival week. Hopefully this will not be the end of Turtle Song’s association with the Festival and Mindsong.

As we are all living longer, the risks of developing dementia are rising. We know that more and more of us will need Mindsong, and thank the Festival for its continuing and valued support.

Anthea Holland

*Supported by the Scouloudi Foundation, The Swire and Schroder Charitable Trusts and Mindsong.