Many years ago when I was living in England and had a full time career in music I worked as a teacher and through a series of opportunities was asked to provide music for people with disabilities.
My first contract was to go into a residential home for people with disabilities and bring an interactive music workshop. So I took a ghetto blaster (that will give a time frame), tapes and a big box of percussion instruments along with some homemade percussion instruments.
I was told “the management thinks it’s a good idea but no-one will want to do it” and “you are wasting your time, all they do is sit in front of the TV” within the first 10 minutes of being there.
I smiled and said “can I try”. They showed me to their smallest room in the home and wheeled two people in as my token group. I asked if it would be ok to leave the door open in case some others might be interested. They smiled with that knowing look of pity for me but they said alright.
I talked to my group who both got excited about the instruments and when I turned on the ghetto blaster they became very enthusiastic. I helped them to play the instruments and started playing a drum myself.
It was supposed to be an hour session but the workers had expected me to fail miserably and so had decided to walk in after 15 minutes and rescue me.
When they arrived I had 12 people in the room and a couple at the door all playing instruments and having a great time. The workers could not believe it and when I offered them instruments they came in. At the end of the hour no one wanted to stop and when I said I would be back in a week a couple of the workers wanted to be there and they promised a big room.
A week later I was swamped at the door by the residents and the two workers from the previous week guided me to a much bigger room. That day I had 30 residents and staff singing and playing instruments, laughing and begging me to stay longer.
There were many successes from those small beginnings but one was a lady in her 80’s who had arthritis in her hands and had originally come in to listen. Each week I had offered her two blocks of wood to bang together. One week she did and they became her instruments. She did so well that an Occupational Therapist recommended buying her wood blocks for her to play during the week. She grew in strength and dexterity and even began leading the group with her steady consistent rhythm. She smiled the whole time – something that had never been seen before in the 10 years that she had been there.
Word spread and other residential homes asked if they could bring people to try it. We ended up in the main lounge with around 50 people involved. Then the other residential homes booked me and more people got to experience the joy of being involved in playing music.
None would ever be famous but music touched their lives and brought joy to largely forgotten people. They were times that I will always consider myself privileged to be a part of and even writing this I am remembering the moments when music broke into individual’s lives and the change in them that followed.