City of London Sinfonia

Award amount: £36,000

Case study

One resident at Lady Sarah Cohen Care Home was described as follows prior to the CLS interaction: “she doesn’t like socialising or taking part in activities on the floor.”

Following the CLS residency:

  • Day 1: “She interacted verbally and had short chats with the musician. She gave positive feedback about the music and the skills of the musician. Throughout the musical pieces she seemed interested, focused and receptive.”
  • Day 2: “She wanted to listen to the music and remained focused and relaxed throughout the whole interaction. She commented ‘beautiful’ every time after a piece.”
  • Day 3: “She was very happy to see the musician again and listen to the sound of the violin. She was very interested in both verbal and musical interactions. She became very chatty, having lots of questions and interested to know more about the violinist. She said ‘that’s very good’ and ‘that’s very nice’ responding to the music. I felt she didn’t want the interaction to stop today, whereas, in general she shows a preference for short interactions unless she really knows the person well and trusts them.”

Organisation: City of London Sinfonia

L’Chaim: Living Music

The Charity

City of London Sinfonia (CLS) is the orchestral home to over 40 outstanding professional musicians who come together in the shared belief that music has the power to transform the lives of people across all areas of society. They place equal value on everything they do, whether performing in international concert halls and opera houses or with some of the most vulnerable people in our society in hospitals, hospices and care homes.

The need

Dementia is increasing in incidence as the population ages, with those affected by dementia in the UK predicted to exceed 1 million people by 2025. Many care home residents live with dementia and this can lead them to experience social withdrawal, anxiety, disorientation and depression.

The ability to dance, sing and enjoy music is an integral part of many people’s lives and is important for people living with dementia, as music can reach parts of the brain that other forms of communication cannot. Taking part in music activities can, therefore, make a real difference to the wellbeing of care home residents in the early to moderate stages of these conditions. Musical interactions also facilitate discussion and communication allowing residents to maintain a greater degree of independence through independent thought, musical preference and expression of interests.

The Project

CLS was awarded a three-year grant in 2015 to deliver a series of interactive concerts for care home residents, including Jewish refugees and survivors of Nazi persecution, many of whom live with dementia.

From 2018, CLS developed the project, in partnership with Jewish Care, and started delivering room visits and musical interaction for hard-to-reach residents. This involved musicians working holistically with residents in their rooms, improvising music inspired by the residents movements, speech or level of engagement. They also started doing residencies over a period of 3-4 days in care homes, allowing the musicians to form relationships with the residents. Musicians responded to requests and engaged in conversation between pieces.

2,497 older adults benefited through performances in their care homes or one-to-one musical interaction over the course of the project. Four new CLS musicians were also trained so that they could develop interactions and find opportunities to perform in ways that enable more residents access to the music.

Is it working?

In a word: yes!

80% of isolated, hard to reach residents in the care homes visited showed an increase in engagement and mood after sessions with the musicians. Using the ArtsObs tool, the CLS team found that, on a scale of 1-7, the happiness score in residents had risen from 3.3 to 6 over the course of the concert.

CLS have also formed a partnership with the Baring Foundation, who had become aware of the project and subsequently invited CLS to present at the British Council ‘Creative Ageing’ conference in South Korea in 2017, which recognised best-practice in the arts for older people. CLS and the Baring Foundation also partnered to produce a series of case studies highlighting best practice in classical music making with people living with dementia in their publication ‘From Bingo to Bartok’.