ADI – Singing for the Brain, Community and World – Alzheimer’s Disease International | WHs Answers

ADI member Alzheimer’s Society (UK) Singing for the Brain™ group is based on the principles of music therapy and singing. Group sessions are structured to include a range of activities, including vocal warm-ups, use of percussion, and singing a variety of well-known and new songs. The participants also have the opportunity to talk to and network with other people affected by dementia.

In this blog, Singing for the Brain™ Leader Peter Edwards shares how a group came together virtually during the first COVID-19 lockdown and was inspired by their success to create a project that would highlight and preserve the talent of its members voices for future generations.

For many years, through the Alzheimer’s Society’s Singing for the Brain service, people with dementia across the UK have been gathering in groups of various sizes to make music and sing together. The sessions are led by a trained leader and volunteer who actively encourages and supports people to participate.

From the beginning of these gatherings, it has been observed how someone diagnosed with dementia can retain their memory of song lyrics and structure long after other cognitive functions have been impaired.

A group of friends who had formed a singing group for people living with dementia went online in March 2020, just as the first COVID-19 outbreak was beginning.

As they came together virtually, each found they could sing comfortably with newfound joy and confidence, encouraged by the comfort and safety of their own homes. Many noticed a change that brought her own voice and musicianship to the fore. Eventually, the virtual singing group began to expand beyond friends in the area and around the world, with people from England to India, Croydon to California.

Members of the Croydon Alzheimer’s Society Singing for the Brain™ group perform at ADI 2022.

Friendships and self-help groups developed spontaneously from these meetings.

Sharing the singing sessions with the world

As the virtual singing group continued to grow, I was asked by members of the original group (Alzheimer’s Society Singing for the Brain Croydon) to oversee a project that would both memorialize the vocal prowess of their loved ones and create a singing resource that could be shared with all will.

We started reaching out to those who had only attended the singing sessions since they were virtual, as well as the original members. Some people were invited to record a song they bonded with in the group, often a song they found particularly poignant and evoked fond memories of happy times.

Others were keen to sing but were unsure of what to offer; In these cases, I would discuss ideas with them, suggest lyrics that seemed to fit their story, and they would take on the challenge of learning new material and absorbing it.

Sometimes, however, the difficulties of real life crept in. Unfortunately, one of the members, Fred, died before the project began. Through a vocal recording already online and with his wife’s permission, we were able to add his great voice to the album.

We also lost Eric, a true music lover who lined up to record his signature song, “Fly me to the moon.” While in the hospital, he continued to do what he loved most, singing to others on the ward, who were amazed by his stylish renditions of songs.

At his side, his wife Liz recorded another of his favorite songs, “We’ll Meet Again,” which he often rounded off our singing lessons with. Though weak, his timing and voice were impeccable as always.

Compilation “If I Had A Song”.

The result was a rich source of vocal performances with original piano backing tracks and lyrics, collected under the title “If I Had a Song”.

Members of the Croydon Alzheimer’s Society Singing for the Brain™ group.

Each accompaniment to the song was also recorded in three different keys (high, middle and low) and the lyrics rendered in a way that the songs can be sung at home by people with dementia and their friends and families.

The backing tracks were mostly new arrangements by Daniel Steiner, who also works for the Alzheimer’s Society and had previously worked as a Singing for the Brain volunteer in Southwark, London (the borough where ADI headquarters happens to be located). In addition to the wonderful vocals provided by people living with dementia, their carers, staff and Alzheimer’s Society volunteers, two of the latter, Anne Miles and Sandra Willans, also made their piano playing skills available.

Dara De Burca, the newly appointed operations director of the Alzheimer’s Society, was among the first to recognize the achievement, saying: “I absolutely love that this project has grown out of relationships and connections and is a wonderful example of collaboration and empowering people.

The hope is that people will use and enjoy this music set, but also that people will be inspired to record their own loved ones, not necessarily singing, maybe just talking and remembering, so that these future generations can feel the warmth and love which they reach out to them.

You can download the If I Had a Song project with vocal tracks, backing tracks, lyrics and CD work here.

Peter Edwards is an experienced leader of therapeutic musical interventions and has worked for a variety of organizations across London, UK including as leader of Singing for the Brain™ at the Croydon Alzheimer’s Society in South London.

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