Creative Encounters in Meadow View

My creative work is often unplanned but not unprepared and I am open to opportunities. I pay attention and look for where I might be needed. I find the ‘game’. I am the guest in another’s world. Sometimes I wish I had a camera, just filming everything that is in my eyesight. I sometimes find myself so deeply absorbed in joyful and tender situations that I wish I could share. Stopping to take photographs can stop the ‘flow’ and my work is all about finding this ‘flow’, joining people in the ‘flow’. However, in the absence of a camera and a film to show you, I am going to paint with words a beautiful afternoon spent in Meadow View house at Vida Hall, joining people in music and creativity, chance taking and bursts of bold exuberance! Enjoy.

It’s Friday afternoon, I walk though the door. I have my guitar and bells tied around my ankles. I have no plan. I am quickly greeted by a man who urges me to follow him, he is trying to tell me someone isn’t ok. His words are jumbled but I hear a clear ‘upset’ and so I follow him. In this moment, this is what I am here for. This is my first invitation. He leads me all around the hallway until we find a woman sitting by the window, with all his empathy he pushes me towards her. Once I have said hello to her and got a chair to join her, he seems satisfied his work is done and he moves away. She looks a little sad so I begin to play some gentle music, a little folk song and begin to sing after a while. She regards me and I check out that it’s ok that I am with her. She is fine with this. After some time, another man comes along and he is invited to join us and I get another chair. Then time passes again and my original man joins us and now we are four. The songs and music meander and I move into Kumbaya. The woman joins me with a beautiful voice and at times we are harmonising and our voices dance together. The man who first greeted me is also joining in, words here and there but he is emotionally with us and there is a feeling of togetherness. Staff pass us, other residents pass us. Sometimes we share a wave, a hum, a wink. The tea trolley comes and scones and tea are served. One man moves away, another joins us. You are my sunshine. A very simple almost childish song, but one deeply stored and easily remembered. Music in this case is more about how than what. It’s acting as a bonding tool, a way to achieve, belong, have something to contribute. The songs we sang as children are so deeply in our minds, they sing us. It’s effortless. The woman I am sitting with turns to me and says clearly ‘I love this’.

After a while I say goodbye and move on. I am walking along the hallway looking for opportunities, small encounters. I move into the lounge, a woman is sitting with a staff member. I ask her if she would like a little bit of music. She doesn’t answer me yes or no but at this point hasn’t given me any recognisable sign she isn’t ok with me. This is my quest; to ascertain whether she is ok with me being with her. I need to observe that there is consent of some kind. She meets my gaze as I play and I sing gently and we are still holding that gaze. After 5 minutes, I thank her and touch her on the arm, she is still silent but blinks at me. This is enough, we regard each other in silence.

I move on playing gently as I walk, peeking in bedrooms to see if anyone is up for a song. I see a man in his room, I have known him for many years, I enter and say; “I hope it’s ok if I sing a little song for you”, no answer required. I will do the work here, checking that you are ok with this. He looks at me and smiles widely as I sing and tell him how nice it is to see him. I stay for a few songs then say goodbye for now.

I continue down the hallway and pass a room, where a woman is resting on her bed. I wave, she waves back. I move inside and play a little bit faster. “Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon…..” she joins me and sits up in bed. I remember that when we sang this before, she changed the words and inside of “music, music, music” it became “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” I offer her this version and she smiles and joins me. I then begin “Marching on Together” which I have recently learned (sorry Glasgow!). She springs out of bed and is looking around for her slippers with some urgency, she puts them on and we move towards the door where she takes my arm and we walk and sing. So, here we are literally marching on together, I look at her and she closes her eyes as she sings “we are so proud” she is deeply immersed in this song, she sings Leeds, LEEDS, LEEDS!

We pass a man in his bedroom sitting with a staff member, he tells her he wants to join us, I look around and another resident has also joined with a staff member. Then we pass the kitchen and a man from there joins us too. My lady sitting by the window joins us and my Leeds fan is inviting her to also hold my arm. So here is how we look, I have two women holding my arm, I am playing guitar, shaking my bells, a procession is following us and we are growing with each person we pass and this is the game, this is the magic. I couldn’t plan this but instead I have accepted the invitations, held the energy together.

At these times of great excitement, I am also mindful of where I am taking people, its not about getting people so excited that they can’t keep control of their emotions, I must be responsible and so I am watching out for signs of this; this is the therapeutic part of my role. We get to the sitting area near the lounge and I sit down and encourage others to take a rest. A few people disperse but my Leeds fan is up for a party. I play some other upbeat songs: ‘Wimoweh’ is such a great one to have up my sleeve as most people know this and many of our overseas staff know this from home as well as younger staff knowing it through Disney. It’s a uniting song and my Leeds fan is dancing with a staff member and she pulls him close and she is 21 again and she is at the Majestic in Leeds and I am witnessing this and this is the picture I would take. We then we close with she’ll be coming round the mountain and then its time for tea and my afternoon has come to an end.

I am a Mental Health Nurse, Musician and Puppeteer. I am part of the Learning and Development Team at Vida Healthcare. Dementia is an area I have worked in for over 15 years, my particular area of special interest is giving life to all that remains. I do this through close connections and the creative Arts as well as offering support to families.

Theresa McNally, Creative Practice Manager, Vida Healthcare