Book: Venue Stories
Chapter: Music Spaces and Music Memory
The idea that music is what feelings sound like has a truth that penetrates much like sound itself does. Many people will share stories of moments in which a piece of music made them shiver or the hairs stand up on their skin. Many people will strongly associate a piece of music with a certain time, place or person and just as memories are reignited so are our senses.
Music can reawaken the atmosphere, the scents or the scene it was once played in. Unlike anything else, it can have a life all of its own. From being a singer-songwriter in a band performing in pubs, theatres and festivals to becoming an arts and music therapist working within homes and day centres, I have seen the way music connects, creates and awakens memories.
Whatever emotions we bring with us into a venue space there are many times we leave that same space in some ways changed by our experience. In my band Bodixa, with whom I spent a decade recording and touring throughout the 90s, the magic seemed to happen when there was that shared connection between us as performers and our audience. I remember our more intimate gigs in theatre venues like City Varieties in Leeds and singing out the lyrics, ‘It’s all a little better with you, all a little better’. A delicate song that spoke about the balance another person can bring into your life. As the lights dimmed and the music played, there was a tangible sense of connection with the audience, a moment of ‘togetherness’ within the silence the song created.
Playing Glastonbury’s acoustic tent in 2004, as the rain bought in more festival goers and as we played songs they hadn’t heard before, we got to share some of our most intimate experiences through the medium of song. Our music resonated with the audience members and acted as a therapeutic outlet.
But as I left those venues, theatres or festival spaces, my investment in the music was to keep giving voice to experience through music in the hope people would ‘step into’ these spaces relating to these universal themes explored in the songs. This contrasts with my experiences working within the care homes and day centres in which I’m very much stepping into ‘their world’ and ‘their space’ and ‘taking music’ to these places. I now invest in those clients a specific focus upon improving well-being, minimizing symptoms of dementia such as agitation and relieving psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. One day centre in Nottinghamshire I worked in had a client who met me for the first time every week. This lady couldn’t tell you when lunch was but could recite entire Elvis songs. The bus driver told me that the music had helped decrease this lady’s agitation so much that he had no problems asking her to travel on the bus home now, she was showing less signs of psychological distress.
Another story of music working as a therapy involves a woman who has been in care all her life. This is an example of music encouraging ‘associative learning’ ( whereby a person strongly associates a piece of music with a person or event), as she likes to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ and she not only sings this song in her home but deeply connects with it. The tears and the music bring about a healing and her agitation is replaced by peace. The care staff think this is a song that may have been sung to this lady as a young person. As a therapist (and this is where it differs to performing), my job is to draw upon a client’s story and to create space for them to connect with their own voice. Music is such a powerful tool for this and, like that connection between performer and audience, I see memories being reignited and peace replacing agitation. It is then that the magic of music continues to amaze me. As I step out of these homes and drive away I too feel profoundly changed by the power of music and the memories we’ve just made.