When I perform in care homes, I am often aware that those currently in their eighties and nineties are the last generation for whom a ‘sing-song’ would have been a normal part of family and community life. Gathered around the piano, whether at home or in the pub, or taking part in organised activities at school or worship, they would have happily sung out favourite songs of the day.
However, as the commercialisation of music grew, subsequent generations were then drawn into the false idea that making music should only be the preserve of professional musicians and that their role should purely be that of a consumer, to buy records and purchase concert tickets.
As a consequence the many benefits of singing and making music were lost to the majority of people. ‘I wish I had your talent’, ‘I wish I’d learnt to play an instrument’, ‘I’m tone deaf’, ‘Oh no you really don’t want to hear me sing’ are all phrases that I’ve heard over and over again.
Go back in time and you find that music was always an essential shared experience and a commonplace activity for all. Fishermen sang shanties, folk bands gathered around the maypole, colliery bands in the park, and all manner of other groups used music to enrich their lives.
Return to today, and community music is on its way back. This can be seen in the rise of large groups of people strumming ukuleles together and/or singing in rock choirs – where the joy and the fun of the activity has as much status as ‘getting it right’
All kinds of broader music making groups have started to appear, where anyone can join in. Strummers groups and folk orchestras are becoming ever-increasingly popular, as well as drumming circles, where people can enjoy all kinds of percussion.
Learning to play has become easier as well, since the internet allows amateurs musicians to share songs and techniques with anyone else across the globe, all for free. To get started all you need is 2 or 3 chords and enthusiasm.
As a community musician, my role is as a facilitator, to help people rediscover that joy of shared music making, in an inclusive and non non-judgemental environment. To get them over the worry of having to get everything ‘right’ and appreciate the joy of making different sounds and tapping into the universal and spiritual language of music.
I give them permission to metaphorically splash the paint across the paper, and not worry about the end result too early on.
Numerous studies show just how good making music and singing are for health and well being. It has the ability to both energise and calm in equal measure, with no harmful side effects.
The more people I can get playing music, rather than just listening to it, the better!
Participation in community music can;
Increase energy levels
Reduce stress levels
Improve general feelings of well-being
Combat isolation and boredom
Improve confidence and self esteem
Be great fun
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