Music Making Café

May 30, 2021

Music and social interaction together proved a powerful combination for promoting wellbeing at the Hallé Music Making Café in Salford. The project was a collaboration between the Hallé Orchestra and Salford Institute for Dementia at the University of Salford.

People living with dementia and current or former care partners were involved, participating in music making over a series of seven monthly sessions* with the opportunity to socialise and enjoy refreshments before and after each event.

Participants, who all lived in the community, were interviewed prior to the project beginning to explore their expectations. Three themes became apparent as important issues: maintaining participation in a shrinking world; collective pleasure and feelings of belonging; where words fail, music speaks.

Increase in mood

Each session took a different theme, from creating music for chosen still or moving images to combining music with poetry.

Researchers observing the 1-hour sessions and collecting ‘in the moment’ self-reporting questionnaires could see a clear rise in mood between participants on arrival compared to when they were leaving. They believe 98% of participants experienced an increase in mood and wellbeing after each meeting and accumulatively across the programme.

Follow up interviews revealed four common themes among those who took part. They enjoyed creating music, the camaraderie, laughing and learning, and the programme exceeded expectations.

Opportunities to participate

Dr Sarah Kate Smith, Research Associate, Salford Institute for Dementia, said: “It is clear from the findings that participants do not lack the passion or drive to become a member of the Hallé Music Making Café. What is lacking are opportunities to actively participate as equal members in a music making group that can highlight retained strengths and abilities and provide the potential for learning new skills.

“Participants spoke overwhelmingly about a sense of camaraderie that they have never felt being part of a group before. Much of this camaraderie was achieved by laughing with each other but equally through enabling environments and supportive facilitation which is so important to be people living with dementia and their care partners.

“Having the opportunity to accomplish creating music as part of a group with the prestigious Hallé Orchestra, was reported by participants to be the most meaningful, emotional and uplifting experience that they have had in a long time.”

Key takeaways

The authors of the report have made six recommendations for people involved in similar schemes:

  • It is vital to find ways to enable a level playing field involvement in music making groups without ‘seeing’ the dementia first.
  • An underpinning philosophy that is key to success of an initiative such as music making, is, to assume a person’s strengths and abilities exist and then modify if required to accommodate the condition.
  • It is important for facilitators to acknowledge and accept that people living with dementia may experience the condition differently on different days.
  • The setting has important consequences for wellbeing, especially for people living with dementia. Creating a safe and friendly environment in the community is key to promoting familiarity and friendships that are non-judgemental.
  • It is vital that participant’s expectations are clearly understood if they are to be met. Designing initiatives like the Hallé Music Making Café must involve the perspectives of people living with dementia and care partners from the outset.
  • The skills and approach of the musician/facilitator was paramount to the positive experiences of participants and requires careful consideration when setting up such a group.

*The evaluation was due to take place from September 2019 to June 2020, however the last three sessions were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Read the full research report