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Creating Melodic Memories

As part of our ongoing work to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access the life-enhancing benefits that music can bring, we have been running a series of monthly get-togethers for people living with dementia in Leeds.

The Melodic Memories sessions have been exploring how music can be used to ignite memories and spark conversations. Relaxed and welcoming, they have been held at the Howard Opera Centre in partnership with Leeds City Council’s Peer Support Service. Members of the group came along to the Company’s dememtia friendly performance of Carmen and will be making another trip to the theatre in October for the relaxed performance of La traviata.

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Marie Claire Breen runs a Melodic Memories session. Photo credit Ernesto Rogato

During the sessions, the participants were encouraged to pick out tunes which marked important moments in their lives and to respond creatively to the world around them. They decided what the group should be called and even composed a special theme song. Soprano and vocal coach Marie Claire Breen, who led the workshops, explained:

“Melodic Memories is an incredibly special project to be involved in. Our sessions are designed to be a safe space for our participants to explore, develop and celebrate their intrinsic musicality and artistic flair. Music is the beating heart of our workshops and it has been a joy to see how this community has grown and flourished through the experience.”

Activities included creating a book of memories, a crafting session with the Costume department, a drama workshop, and a chance to sing, dance and play percussion instruments – all interspersed with plenty of tea and chat.

Singing at the Melodic Memories session in the Howard Assembly Room © Ernesto Rogato

A jazz trio joined the group for the final session when they celebrated everything they had done over the previous months. We asked some of the participants how they had found their Melodic Memories experience.

“It brings David joy. He perks up, you can see it in his eyes. He can feel the music. Music is important. It’s such a great thing for us to be participating in.

– Cath & David

“We love the singing and enjoy it when we get to do percussion too. We love getting to hear Marie Claire sing – more of that please!”

– Gabrielle & Roxanne

‘It’s the best dementia group we come to. Everything about it is wonderful. We particularly enjoy the singing – and the biscuits! We can’t wait for more.”

– Jenny & John

Remembering the actions to the Melodic Memories songs. Photo credit Ernesto Rogato

The sessions started in autumn 2021, with the help and advice given by Peer Support Service proving invaluable in ensuring everything was perfectly tailored to the group. Debbie Catley and Debbie Marshall from the team were delighted with the result:

“It absolutely makes a difference. It’s very inclusive. It’s a safe space for people living with dementia and for the people who are supporting them. It makes opera accessible. And everybody is left with a skip in their step, so whatever we’ve done, we have done a good job today.”

The invitation to celebrate the end of the first set of sessions was thrown open to family and friends, ensuring that everyone was able to see what had been achieved.

Enjoying the final Melodic Memories session. Photo credit Ernesto Rogato

Melodic Memories is part of Opera North’s accessibility strand of work which includes dementia friendly and relaxed performances, as well as shows which are audio described, captioned and signed. Following its dementia friendly performances of La bohème and Carmen, a relaxed performance of Verdi’s La traviata will be performed on Monday 24 October for anyone who may find a traditional theatre setting difficult to negotiate. The performance will also be sign interpreted.

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