Silent Orchestra – multi-sensory instruments for people with dementia

Date published: 23 Jan 2020

Posted by: Joe Pick

Instruments for people with dementia

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City Arts has been supporting artist Jenny Hibberd, music tutor James Sykes and programmer Andrew Johnston to create multi-sensory musical instruments for people with dementia.

Their creations are a creative response to ORCHARD, an Institute of Mental Health study into hearing loss and dementia. Bridie Squires interviewed the team about the project for Left Lion:

I find myself sitting on the floor in Hackspace, gawking at the curtain lighting up every time I brush the strings of the ‘harp’. There’s something incredibly satisfying about it. “We chose the colours on the LEDs to correspond with the keys and strings on the instruments,” says Johnny. “When you touch a blue, you see a blue, which will trigger some connectivity in the brain.”

“Me and Johnny created all the sounds three octaves apart and they’re all on the pentatonic scale,” says Jamie. “All of them are made to be very soothing, none very abrasive, so when you do play them together it creates a harmony.” The music can be listened to through headphones, hence the ‘Silent.’

“The cushions will vibrate when a note is played too. It’s something tactile and comforting to hold,” says Jenny.

Bridie Squires, Left Lion

The team have been visiting Skylarks Care Home to learn about meeting the needs of people with dementia.

“We learned a lot,” says Jamie. “We’ve worked in dementia care before, but this was a bit of an eye opener for us, to find out how the places work and to see the severity of some patients’ conditions.

“We noticed a lot of very bright colours in the care home,” says Jenny. “One of the staff members said that red and blue are the last colours to go, and that bright colours are really helpful. One of the participants tried to play a ukulele and just couldn’t gauge how close his hands were to the instrument because of the big, black hole in the middle, so he was really confused. We knew we needed the instruments to be white and very colourful, so there’d be no risk of that.”

We wanted everything to be hygienic too, so you can take the pillowcases off to wash them, the curtain can be washed. It meant a whole lot of extra processes. It’s all the small tasks that take the longest.”

Bridie Squires, Left Lion

Once completed the Silent Orchestra will be installed at Skylarks for staff and patients to use.

Read the full interview on the Left Lion website.