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Intergenerational music-making with Music for Wellbeing CIC

Established in 2016, Music for Wellbeing is a CIC working primarily in Wiltshire and London. We run music projects across the community and in care and educational settings. We are passionate about the power of participatory music to enable change within individuals, institutions and in relationships between people.

Our work focuses on four main areas: adults with long term health conditions (especially dementia and lung conditions), adults with learning disability, intergenerational music-making and training other community musicians and people who wish to incorporate participatory music-making into their work.

What do we understand by intergenerational music-making?

‘Intergenerational music-making’ is probably as broad a practice as the age range it covers! It will look very different in different settings, depending on the age groups and needs of the people taking part, and the type of musical activities the groups want to do. This makes it exciting, uplifting, unpredictable, and nerve-wracking all at once!

Broadly speaking, we understand intergenerational music-making to sit within the European Network for Intergenerational Learning’s definition of intergenerational learning: ‘a learning partnership based on reciprocity and mutuality involving people of different ages where the generations work together to gain skills, values and knowledge” (ENIL, n.d. as cited in Kernan, M & Cortellesi, G. 2020).

This ties in nicely with how we understand our practice of community music. It’s a way of working rather than a specific ‘curriculum’, and is very much negotiated and co-created, embracing all types of learning and all types of musics.

Where intergenerational music-making started for us

Prior to setting up Music for Wellbeing, all three directors worked as freelancers exploring different models of intergenerational music work. Chris and Kevin worked in Newham, bringing together young adults with learning disabilities and older people with memory difficulties attending a day centre, through the medium of Indian music. Liv piloted a project in Bexley with funding from Sound Connections to bring together older adults who attended a day centre with families with under 5s. This then broadened to include a local preschool, which connected many different parts of the local community.

What we’ve explored since then

Since joining forces and establishing ourselves as a CIC, we have explored further projects, mainly centred in care homes. In recent projects, we have brought together primary schools and care homes as an after school activity that parents can join in with too.

One project (Hear My Voice, Share My Song) involved sharing songs that were important to us as individuals, creating new songs and chants to document our experiences of living in the same area, and telling our personal histories through lyric writing.

In another project (Uke Can Do It!), we learned the ukulele together, including writing new parts to songs and sharing these with the wider community at a celebration event. We invited a local ukulele group to join us at the final event, which inspired all of us to keep practising!

Liv has also started a PhD researching intergenerational music in care homes, exploring the ukukele project in depth and hopefully moving on to include early years families in care homes in the future.

What we’ve found out

Essentially, intergenerational music-making can be a fantastic way to bring together groups of people who wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to meet or even make any form of music. It can have a positive impact on residents in care homes, who might not often have the opportunity to see the very young generation, but also for children (and even parents) to get to know people from another generation. Families live further apart and may not have the same social contact with the older generation as in times gone by. This extra-familial contact can enhance social cohesion, enrich learning and help to build relationships between people.

We’ve also learned that it really isn’t easy to do this! Creating the right kind of environment to support all generations in one space in a creatively fulfilling way is challenging. The right level of resourcing, from instruments and props to staff and facilitators is crucial, and should not be underestimated. Intergenerational music can, and should, be much more than just a nice singalong. It is a way to explore attitudes, life histories and shared experiences through creative music-making, bringing together people throughout the life course to gain skills, share knowledge and value others. Oh, and of course, have great fun along the way!

Liv McLennan, Co-Director Music for Wellbeing


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