[Research 3 Yeovil District Hospital]
I’ve now had a few more visits to Yeovil Hospital and these have helped me to formulate my ideas around the finished installation work and the type of vocal content I would like to populate it with.
Yeovil and Dorchester Hospitals are very different beast architecturally and it is clear there are more challenges around siting a sound installation in Yeovil Hospital than in Dorchester Hospital due to the design and layout of the building. I like a challenge so am undaunted about this and will explore the possibilities in the coming weeks with staff at Yeovil. In fact, one member of staff in particular who has been a joy to work with; Janine Valentine, Nurse Consultant for Older People.
Janine has shown me around a whole range of wards and departments in the hospital that come into contact with elderly patients and therefore a proportion of those who are confused or suffering from dementia. Without fail, the atmosphere and mood of the staff on the wards I have visited has been fantastic – happy and joyous, I’d say, and this wasn’t just because I was visiting; it was clear the care, attention, camaraderie and morale was extremely high. This made the wards feel friendly, homely and much less intimidating than these busy environments would suggest, especially to the elderly, frail and confused. There is a family feeling on the wards and it was this that leapt out at me as my first impression.
Janine Valentine: Nurse Consultant for Older People
As well as showing me around and meeting other staff, Janine and I had the opportunity to discuss the project. I enjoyed this bit especially, not least because Janine’s initial impressions around the outcomes of the finished piece – what it would sound like, what it would do and whom it was for where different from mine. Janine knew that my music wasn’t playful or melodic and had a tendency to be wild and dissonant.
Janine drew an interesting comparison between the intention of the music activities that occur on the wards – to soothe, entertain, provoke good memories, to stimulate participation and singing along – generally creating a good time for all, were markedly different from the outcomes of my music which could be complex, confrontational, overwhelming, not a sing-along and possibly disturbing for some.
Of course the difference in outcomes of these two activities lies with the intention of the artist [in my case] or musician in the case of on-ward activities and the audiences the outcomes are aimed at. The ward-based activities could be loosely described as therapeutic entertainment and are firmly geared towards patients. My work is neither a therapeutic activity, nor an entertainment and is aimed at a wider public including health and arts professionals with an aim of offering different perspectives around dementia when presented to audiences as an installation; a piece of art. My work is not designed for people with dementia and although being installed into public areas of each hospital for a time, the work will most likely spend most of its ‘life’ away from hospitals at arts and health conferences and arts festivals – again, reaching out to those wider audiences.
Once we had established the differences between my activity and the hospital-based therapeutic music activities I could see Janine was becoming very excited about the hospital being involved in something quite different to what had gone before and was quickly becoming as excited as me about the prospect of this new, possibly quite challenging work having a life and [hopefully] positive influence away from the hospital. I think Janine’s relationship to the idea of ‘dissonance’ in music may be on the move, too!
One outstanding area of research I needed to complete was to talk to someone about their personal experience caring for a loved one who developed dementia and what that meant to them from the very human side of living with and caring for someone who’s health consistently deteriorates until they pass away.
Janine introduced me to the amazing Sue Finer, an inspirational woman who has been on this journey with her late husband and is now sharing her thoughts about Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, in a book she is writing. Sue is a volunteer at the hospital and has become a major advocate for the hospital’s work with dementia – in fact, the word volunteer is a little misleading as in many ways, her work with dementia has become an essential aspect of the hospital’s work advocating and supporting dementia care and activities within wider communities.
Sue very kindly spoke to me candidly about her husband’s disease, how it progressed, and how this impacted on their lives. These stories were very personal but also hugely universal to so many living with the effects and affects of dementia. It was the very personal nature of this conversation, the small details, insights and observations that really helped me to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding. This information was also transformed [or at least will be] into content – vocal content, words and utterances for the installation.
Like Janine, Sue wasn’t quite sure exactly what my role as Composer-in-Residence to Yeovil District and Dorchester County Hospitals was and what sort of work was being proposed. We discussed this for some time. I talked Sue through my ideas, drew a few diagrams to illustrate how the installation would work and what sort of content would be in it – how I’d work with the choir to produce the music etc., and how I’d been conducting my research so far and where that had led me. Again, like Janine, Sue had spent some time online researching my work and listening to recordings of pieces and couldn’t make the leap between what she had heard from my asynchronous, noisy, complex music to an installation about dementia. A totally understandable position!
Sue had also read my REFOUND SOUND blogs but still was unclear where I was heading with everything, which is no surprise as there is a large aspect of the blog that is very much ‘thinking out loud’, and working through challenges and questions in an open manner. I call this ‘open research and practice development.’ It can be confusing for those looking in.
I could see the moment when Sue totally ‘got’ what I was telling her and she could imagine the finished installation and its sound-world and vocal content. It’s a wonderful moment when another person really resonates with what I’m proposing and moves from a position of uncertainty to becoming a firm ally and advocate for the work.
So now, throughout the month of April it is time to gather all this material together and produce the words and music ready for the recording session with the choir which is now confirmed for the 30th April.
It’s becoming more real!