It was the autumn of 2011 and I had just moved to London, flush with the excitement of a new city and of finally being able to pursue singing full-time. Cycling along, an idea presented itself: a cycling concert tour of Song Cycles on my beloved Brompton, preferably somewhere flat. A little pun, then, insignificant in itself, but one which has wormed away at me for the last six years - growing, shrinking, shyly shared it with people until finally it seemed best, like Ruth’s cankering tooth of mystery in The Pirates of Penzance, to ‘have it out at once’. But by itself that little pun wasn’t enough to get me on my bike. It needed a cause, a purpose, a reason to exist beyond the realms of fantasy. One more flash of inspiration was required.
Since 2015 I’ve been giving performances in care homes across London and the South East and have witnessed at first hand the incredible impact that music can have on people living with dementia. I remember with crystal clarity some of the moments that I have shared with people in those situations, and I’ll never forget one lady in particular. I was giving my third performance at this particular home, and Sheila, who had advanced dementia and no longer communicated verbally, had been present at all the sessions but hadn’t participated or shown an interest. Halfway through this third performance I sang ‘On the street where you live’ from My Fair Lady. To my astonishment, Sheila sat bolt upright and mouthed along to every single word, and from then on was an active participant in our remaining sessions.
Music, and particularly the music we love, is rooted so deeply in us. I think we all know that on some level instinctively, but there’s also a huge amount of rigorous research that clearly points to the beneficial effects of live music, both listening and participating, for older people (just as for all of us!) but particularly for people living with a dementia. That moment with Sheila helped me to realise the power of bringing live music to people in that situation, and made me determined to do what I could to help make that happen.
Suddenly, Song Cycle had its raison d’etre. I’ll be cycling, and singing, in support of Live Music Now, the charity founded by Yehudi Menuhin to bring live music of the highest quality to people who would not normally have the opportunity to experience it. A core part of LMN’s work is bringing participatory performances to care homes across the UK, reaching thousand of people living with a dementia each year.
So that little pun has grown into a journey of a thousand miles. If you live somewhere along the route, please do come along to one of the concerts to show your support - every ticket sold goes to support the work of Live Music Now.
If you’re in a different part of the country (or the world!), you can still help LMN to continue bringing joy into the lives of people like Sheila by supporting Song Cycle on JustGiving.