On Sunday I attended a training day for people involved with Singing for the Brain. There were facilitators, volunteers, dementia support workers and fundraisers – over 60 in all. Great fun and it was useful to meet other people working in a similar field. Below are some reflections I wrote on the train on the way home…
It was exciting to arrive this morning and be greeted by a number of familiar faces. Facilitators who I had met when visiting their sessions, and at the recent meet-up at Old Basing.
Watching Sue Shapland go through the session structure was incredibly useful. As I’m now more familiar with some of the material she uses (I have previously visited the Old Basing group), I was able to focus on some of the subtleties: small gestures such as putting her hand to her ear to indicate she is listening and that it’s our turn to sing – the use of a recorder – for months I have been struggling with a tuning fork to pitch songs – brilliant! The pace of the warm-up was also great – taking time to focus on one sound. Previously I have felt anxious about this aspect: is it too childish? Is everyone bored?
I feel watching the different leaders today gave me permission to go with my instincts more and embrace the session structure as something to be played with. Something I would like to experiment with is the breaking up of the warm-up. Feedback from dementia support workers at one of the Singing for the Brain groups I run suggests that the warm-up goes on for too long, especially when coupled with a lengthy (depending on numbers) welcome song. Perhaps a way around this is to place some of the warm-up activities such as tongue-twisters into the main body of the session? I can however see the arguments for the warm-up section to follow a particular pattern, not least to develop a consistency to the opening of sessions. Evidence based practice anyone?
One of the strengths of today’s training was undoubtedly the variety of the facilitators we saw demonstrating different aspects of a session. I loved the Samba and the Rumba and the Cha-Cha-Cha (which I have temporarily forgotten and hopefully will remember in time for my next group on Tuesday) demonstrated by Joni from Castle Cary. I also enjoyed Faye’s session in which she had, I felt, high expectations of the group. This was a real positive. Singing for the Brain is not just about spoon-feeding, but offering a challenge to people. Finding the balance between nurture and challenge is an important part of the continuing development of Singing for the Brain practice. I really hope to use Faye’s action songs and rounds, as they were straightforward, rewarding and not at all childish. I particularly liked the action song ‘Tony Chestnut‘, and can see that this is something that ticks so many boxes in terms of language, swapping sides when doing the actions, and the actions reminding us of the words.
I think what I will most take away with me is the content of Chreanne’s talk at the beginning, that it isn’t ‘miraculous’ when someone withdrawn due to dementia suddenly ‘wakes up’ and joins in – this is the effect that music has on the brain. She also pointed out that people with a dementia diagnosis do not get ‘a fair crack at neuro-rehabilitation'; this is what Singing for the Brain is, and it shows people with dementia can learn to do new things: learn new songs, new skills and make new friends.