Care homes are not often seen as places for performing music, and you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t considered doing so before.
However, according to a 2015 Treasurers survey, a number of Making Music member groups already have a relationship with their local care home.
Why perform in a care home?
It can be hugely beneficial for everyone involved: the care home, its residents and your group:
- A new challenge and project for your members to tackle
- A chance to help the local community and strengthen your links with them.
- A good opportunity to try something new e.g. a repertoire
- Musical activity can improve residents’ wellbeing and quality of life, including those with various stages of dementia and other health issues. This, in turn, can help their family and carers feel more positive (it has been shown that staff who sang were more motivated and enjoyed their work more).
- Similarly, research has indicated that care homes that have a regular programme of music are generally happier places to be. There is even evidence that care homes and other settings saved costs elsewhere as a result of introducing such activities.
What kind of activities could you do?
- Many groups told us that they perform at least once a year in their local care home, often at Christmas. Summer fetes or open days can also be good opportunities to perform. Performances often include a participatory element, e.g. singalong, clapping, or using percussion instruments.
- Some groups keep their performances short and focus on getting the residents and staff actively involved. This would require a bit more preparation. One of you (maybe your Musical Director) would need to be comfortable leading such a session.
- Either of the above can work well as one-off events, but research has shown regular activities are more valuable to care home residents and staff. This can have cost and time implications for your group – you could consider various ways of raising the necessary funds, e.g. from the local council/NHS (this will require a fair amount of input from you), fundraising through your members or activities like cake sales, etc.
- Think about other possible regular activities. Does the home have a suitable room for your rehearsals? Could you rehearse in the home and involve some of the residents or staff? Just offering a space might be convenient for the home, and give some of their residents a lovely group to be part of.
Help from the experts - A Choir in Every Care Home
Launched in May 2015, A Choir in Every Care Home is an initiative dedicated to exploring how music and singing can feature regularly in care homes across the country.
The outcome of the project is the A Choir in Every Care Home website full of resources for musicians and care homes on how they can work together to make every care home a musical one.
To help get you started we have pulled out some top tips from their and resources below. We recommend you have a look the website for further information and guidance.
It is also worth noting that whilst the focus it is called a Choir in Every Care Home the guidance is relevant for instrumental groups too.
About a Choir in Every Care Home: Funded and initiated by the Baring Foundation, it is a collaboration between 35 leading national organisations from the worlds of adult social care, music, and healthcare research. It is being led by three major organisations in the field: Live Music Now, which provides national leadership for musicians working in the care sector; Sound Sense, the UK professional association for community music; and the Sidney De Haan Research Centre, providing cutting-edge research on the medical and social impacts of singing.
Singing in a care home can take a fair amount of preparation. A number of elements need to be in place to ensure that everyone involved gets something out of the experience
Do your homework
- The best person to speak to is often the activities coordinator
- Does the home do any singing/music already? If so, how will yours be different?
- If it doesn’t, does that mean they’ve tried and rejected it? Or is it a question of money or organisation that you can help them resolve? Remember: Care homes have their own pressurised, and often rigid, timetables. Listen to their challenges and think about how you might be able to help.
- You can download a selection of handbooks from the Choir in Every Care Home website. They contain advice on leading music and singing sessions for older people.
- A good way to approach a care home is if you, or a member of your group, already has a connection with a care home. They might have been in, worked, or have relations in the home.
- Encourage care home staff to take part. Building a good relationship with staff can have a really positive effect.
- Some care homes might have a staff member who sings in some form already. If so, see if you can get them involved. They may also be the ones to carry on the singing after your group has gone thereby giving a longer life to your performance/activity.
- There might be sticking points. Can you be accommodating? For example, no piano? Bring a keyboard. For typical sticking points and suggested answers see the Toolkit for Care Homes.
Choose your repertoire carefully
- Your group may have built up a range of songs over many years. If you’re an instrumental group, think about how you can involve residents (e.g. hand held percussion instruments), and whether incorporating some singing into your performance or workshop is something you might be able to do.
- Songs from the 1940s can be limiting and stereotyping.
- Backing tracks may help inexperienced groups and their leaders but can be limiting.
- If you want to accompany your singing, a guitar is a good instrument to choose as it enables the player to move around the room easily.
- Percussion instruments for residents to play can be a good idea even if you’re a choir – not every resident will be able to sing, but they may be able to participate in some other way
- Song sheets (in large print!) can be useful - here’s a selection.
- Try and keep your performances to no longer than an hour.
After you’ve sung/played … do more singing/playing!
- Surveys have shown that homes that sing do so in lots of different ways throughout the day
- Encouraging the use of singalong CDs, or a more formal music box, turns an ordinary home into a ‘singing home’.
- Consider what you might leave as a ‘legacy’ after your visit, whether or not it is a regular event – can you donate percussion instruments? Leave song sheets? Offer a staff member a place in your group so he/she builds their confidence?
Here’s to making care homes more musical places!
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.