composer-in-residence to Yeovil District and Dorchester County Hospital’s ReFound Sound Project.
forget-me-not | Six stereo-channel installation | Choir by the Sea [Directed by Marc Yeats] recorded at Eype Centre for the Arts, St. Peter’s Church, Mount Lane, Eype, Dorset on the 30th April 2016 | Engineer: Simon Eadon, Assistant Engineer: Oliver Robotham. Production: Marc Yeats
For a full description of research and compositional process, please refer to my blogs HERE.
The tie between music and memory is one that we are born with and die with. Neurologically, in very simple terms, processing music involves the functioning of at least two different brain networks, as well as invoking those associated with language (songs with lyrics), movement (moving to the rhythm) and its interweaving with other long term memories (the soundtrack of our lives, our celebrations and significant moments). So when some parts of the brain deteriorate as part of conditions like dementia, where the hippocampus responsible for short term memory is effected, music is often preserved as part of other brain function and is able to bring back important memories. So called “implicit musical memory”, which is the subconscious absorption of musical melodies, may be spared until very late stages of the disease (“Why musical memory can be preserved in advanced Alzheimer’s disease” (2015), Jacobsen et al. [Online: http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/06/03/brain.awv135#ref-59]). Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who has made a study of music in dementia care, puts it another way: “We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life, we know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”
It seemed very interesting to us (the Arts in Hospital producers at Dorchester and Yeovil Hospitals) to explore what musicians can do to help us to help those with dementia at our hospitals and in the wider community, as an ageing population means that there will be more and more with forms of cognitive impairment. Both hospitals had already worked together on music programmes before, bringing in live music to the wards with great effect, improving eating, sleep and levels of activity in patients, not to mention the sheer joy it brings – as one nurse said: “I’ve seen patients come alive in front of my eyes”. We therefore wanted to carry on with this work and also to spread the message to health professionals, care workers and carers that music is a powerful medicine. Hence the Arts Council, DCH Hospital Charity and Yeovil Council funded “Refound Sound”, a project which has commissioned more live music in wards and more unusually a composer in residence to write a new piece of music related to memory, music and place.
With the composer in residence we wanted to approach the idea as a research project. Not though in the way typical to the field of arts and health. For the most part those involved in arts and health have focussed on the scientific validation of art as having therapeutic value with direct causal outcomes, better sleep, less painkillers needed, quicker return home etc. (all of which are currently being proven in different fields of scientific research like the examples above). This is part of a burgeoning body of evidence designed to convince health commissioners to spend resources from mainstream health care budgets. With the commission for the composer in residence though we wanted to re-emphasise the innovative potential of the arts as an aesthetic practice, i.e. sensory, piece of research into a situation, context or environment through art in action. Perhaps the greatest thinker on health and society this century, Michel Foucault, describes the idea of forms of practice as research: “Practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another. No theory can develop without eventually encountering a wall, and practice is necessary for piercing this wall.”
To this end the composer, Marc Yeats, was appointed as he has experimented with the limits of the affective potential of music on a wide spectrum in order to reconfigure simplistic binaries of beautiful/ugly, harmonious/discordant, wellbeing/illness etc. In this sense his musical practice, especially in relation to his asynchronous compositional research, is already a prefigurement of aspects of the condition of dementia which is a breakdown of brain functions that are applied to regulating normal social relations, judgements about environment, personal activities and day to day life. Our hope is therefore that the resulting work by Marc reaffirms an aesthetic approach to health and wellbeing as a valid research tool, with affective outcomes that nevertheless effectively move people in real ways to reconsider personal and professional approaches to treating and caring for those with dementia.
Dr Alex Murdin