Striking a chord with dementia sufferers

Helping hand: Volunteer Jannette Goodgrove became a volunteer a year ago and says each concert has brought special moments.
Helping hand: Volunteer Jannette Goodgrove became a volunteer a year ago and says each concert has brought special moments.
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THE legendary Noel Coward was being as flippant as ever when, in classic comedy Private Lives, he had one of his characters comment: “Strange how potent cheap music is.”

He could, of course, have been talking about all music – for there is surely no other artform that reaches people in quite so immediate a manner.

And even when everything else fails to make an impact, it is music – from the great classics to a fondly-remembered but half-forgotten pop tune – that can most often affect the individual most deeply.

That’s certainly the experience of people working with Lost Chord.

The South Yorkshire charity provides interactive musical experiences for people with dementia in care homes and day centres across the county and beyond.

Established over 10 years ago, Lost Chord’s work is based entirely upon the impact that music has been seen to have on the lives of people with dementia.

It opens doors – even if only briefly – that might have seemed long shut.

Professional musicians provide the music that achieves often extraordinary results, but supporting them is a loyal band of volunteers who help engage and support the people who attend the charity’s interactive events.Jannette Goodgrove, who lives in Maltby, became a Lost Chord Volunteer a year ago and saw straight away just how important the charity’s work is.

“Since becoming a volunteer I have become much more aware of the impact that dementia has, both on the person who has it and on their loved ones,” she explains.

“It has made me realise the importance of enrichment opportunities and has confirmed my belief that music is so fundamental to each and every one of us that it has the ability to unlock not just memories, but the essence of the person.”

Jannette was looking for volunteering opportunities when she heard about Lost Chord’s programme and realised it would perfectly combine her love of music with her interest in giving something back to the community. “The role of the volunteer is important to the smooth running of each concert,” she says.

“Volunteers help in a practical way, engaging clients, enhancing enjoyment and also bringing knowledge of the setting and the clientele, which in turn helps the musicians. “Every single concert has brought special moments, but then there are the really memorable ones.

“There was Tom, for instance, who had become withdrawn and remote, refusing to speak to his family, but who was suddenly joining in with ‘Danny Boy’ as our musician sang to him.

“His daughter explained through her tears that it had been a family favourite and that Tom used to play on the piano as they all sang.

“Then there was a gentleman called Jack who was no longer able to communicate meaningfully but was playing percussion with perfect rhythm, remembering the words to I’ll Be Seeing You and finally waltzing beautifully with his wife.

“The most beautiful moment was when she turned to me and said, ‘I didn’t think we would ever be dancing together again’. That’s the power of Lost Chord!”

With such a busy programme of events annually, Lost Chord is always keen to recruit new volunteers and Jannette is confident that anybody who joins the charity will gain some marvellous experiences from its work.

Her message is simple: “If you enjoy music, interacting with people, and would like to spend an hour or two each week doing something worthwhile, then becoming a volunteer with Lost Chord could become a really rewarding part of your life.” To find out more visit www.lost-chord.org.uk or call 01709 811160.

The power of music is like a little miracle

AWARD winning Sheffield soprano Deborah Norman has sung at La Scala Milan and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

She has performed with Opera North and Welsh National Opera and appeared with some of the world’s most famous orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic.

But she still finds time to join the musicians of Lost Chord, performing at care homes and day centres in both South Yorkshire and Coventry – and says almost every performance is like a little miracle.

“The thing about Lost Chord is that every concert is different,” she explains. “More than any other performance, working with Lost Chord is about trying to connect with the audience and being aware of their needs.” The reaction from Lost Chord audiences is, she says, very different at every venue.

“Sometimes people who have been very quiet one time you visit will be quite buoyant and lively the next,” she says. “I think it’s like a little miracle every time, and proof of the power of music.

“Music is a very healthy thing to be involved with and can be a very emotional thing too because we all have those special songs that trigger memories.

“That’s just the same, I believe, for people with dementia.

“If they can internally relate to something that is a real breakthrough, it can truly unlock something.

“I remember being at one home where a gentleman called Norman was sitting in a wheelchair and looked rather aggressive.

“I was singing Vilia from The Merry Widow and halfway through he just started singing along with me.

“His carer had to go out because she was in tears and later I asked if the song had a particular memory for her personally. But she said she had been moved because Norman had been in the home for about 18 months and in all that time his only words had been ‘nurse’ and ‘no’.

“It’s not all miracles but if you can give people a lovely experience and make them happy that’s very rewarding for the performers, and when you do get that special response, it really is brilliant.”

Support from Dame Vera, Lesley and Cliff

LOST Chord enjoys the enthusiastic support of three of the most enduring names in the music industry… the great Dame Vera Lynn, pop icon Sir Cliff Richard and South Yorkshire’s own opera diva Lesley Garrett.

“Lost Chord is a wonderful charity and it is doing so much to help thousands of people who suffer from dementia, through the power of live music,” says Dame Vera.

“I fully understand the power of live music and the effects it can have on people.

“As one of Britain’s most significant entertainers during the war years it was so important to keep hope alive and morale high, especially for our troops fighting in treacherous conditions overseas.

“During the country’s darkest hours I know my songs really helped to unite everyone and keep spirits high and it is a joy to know that, all these years later, my songs are being performed by Lost Chord musicians, bringing so much joy and happiness to those now living through their darkest days.

“Music is wonderfully therapeutic and certainly does help to unlock the memories of those who are struggling to communicate because of this devastating disease.”

Lesley Garrett, below, was so happy to become involved with Lost Chord because she has personal family experience of the impact dementia can have.

Lesley recalls how her own aunt succumbed to the condition and seemed incapable of maintaining contact with the rest of the world.

“By the end she was living in a home and didn’t know any of us, even her own children,” she says. “Mentally, she was completely lost to us.

“Then one day my mum put on a CD and my aunt grabbed her hand and looked her in the eyes, which she hadn’t done in years.

“Tears fell down her cheeks as she grasped my mum with her trembling hands and smiled at us.

“For that brief moment she was back in the same world as us, sharing what we were sharing, enjoying it along with us.

“I believe that one day we will find a cure for this terrible disease and I believe music will play an important role.”