A case for: why live music should be more than a luxury as we age

Residents dancing to live music. Photo: Danai Fadgyas

As passionate life-long music enthusiasts, 2 years ago we took action on a long-term goal to share our love of playing cello and piano with the residents of a local aged care home in Sydney’s Inner West. The first time we went to perform at Uniting Aged Care in Petersham, it was really quite confronting to see the impact that live music had on these beautiful people in the twilight of their life. As anyone who has been to an aged care home can attest to, it can be eerily quiet, hard to connect and at times a mood depressive experience. However, after seeing the transformative effect music had in inspiring the residents to clap and sing along to our performance, we felt compelled to think of ways that we could extend this experience to more residents and more musicians. 2 years later, we have just wrapped up our Autumn Sessions project where with the support of Inner West Council and Music NSW, we have been able to bring live music performed by 18 musicians and groups to 150 aged care residents. Now, we are on a mission to make live music more than just a luxury as we age.

In January, 2018 we launched The Community Music Project with a project called The Sunday Lounge Sessions. Over the course of 12 months we hosted more than 100 local musicians in our lounge room and it was a fantastic way for us and other musicians to connect with each other in a fun and relaxed environment. During this time, we met many talented amateur, semi/professional musicians and came to understand some of the obstacles to gaining meaningful paid performance opportunities. It wasn’t long before we connected the dots and realised that if we could get some funding, we could begin to support talented local musicians with opportunities to share their music with an extremely appreciative audience of aged care residents.

We decided that the best course of action for demonstrating success for this concept was to apply for an Arts & Culture grant with our local council. The application objective was:

To provide performance opportunities for local musicians to share their musical talents with older residents living in the Inner West. Through a series of fortnightly performances, the project will foster an environment of music sharing and inclusiveness that contributes to healthy, diverse and creative communities within the Sydney’s Inner West.

After several weekends going to information sessions, writing and submitting the grant application, we were astounded to receive $4,000 to run the project. While at the same time trying to balance other full-time jobs, it did feel like quite a burden of responsibility, nevertheless we threw ourselves into it. From creating a website, developing and managing a marketing campaign, scheduling with aged care homes and musicians, developing information packs and countless emails back-and-forth, it was quite a journey. Ultimately, we ended up being blown away with interest and despite a shoestring advertising budget, we received 92 applications from musicians for just 18 available funded positions. With a few twists and turns along the way, we selected 18 amazingly talented musicians and groups, largely based on their enthusiasm for the project and passion for the cause of sharing music with aged care residents. We held a launch event at the local bowling club, which brought all the musicians and some supporters together in what one attendee described as ‘an amazingly diverse battle of the bands’ with everything from cabaret, blue-grass, a saxophone quartet and rock music together.

Running over 3 months between April and June 2019, the performances ensued at 3 different Uniting Aged Care facilities. We were overwhelmed by the feedback from both musicians, residents and staff at the aged care facilities and all involved observed one or more of the following benefits for the residents:

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing (we had lots of residents singing, clapping and dancing)
  • Visibly increased levels of happiness
  • Community and intergenerational interaction
  • Reduced anxiety and stress

Not only this, but the project supported more than 18 local musicians with live music performance opportunities. Feedback received by the musicians was equally positive, particularly about the unique and rewarding opportunity to perform. Catherine a participating musician reflected, ‘it was lovely that some of the residents sang and clapped along, and the staff even got one man up dancing at the end.’ Another musician, Kat told us ‘I had one lady come up to me at the end who said she cried — it was really touching.’

The project wasn’t without its challenges along the way. We knew we needed to have a source of funding to make the project successful in recruiting and remunerating the musicians. However, the requirement for having an auspice when you are neither a registered charity, nor member organisation required quite a bit of coordination. Thankfully MusicNSW came to the rescue and supported us here, for a small fee.

Overall, we are more than thrilled with the outcome of the Autumn Sessions project in connecting talented local musicians with an opportunity to share their passion for music with 150 lucky local residents. We only wish we could make this program accessible to more people, more frequently and in more places!

After having relocated from Sydney to London 3 months ago, we are now on a mission to take what we have learned and bring live music to those living in aged care facilities here in our new metropolis. We’ll be starting by finding a place to volunteer to share music at an aged care home nearby in West London, but we also have big aspirations for a new project in 2020. We are hoping to this time bring together aged care residents with talented composers and music storytellers in a collaborative process that would culminate in the performance of a shared experience between the musician and resident; we are sure there is much to be mutually learned and shared. So begins another exciting journey of finding sponsors and those that would like to be involved, we’ll report back in another 12 months…

Community Music Project Founders

Danai Fadgyas & Ben Thompson-Star