Music: Medicine For The Mind

By Sarah Dunbar, Lost Chord Musician

Sarah dunbar soprano

Source: Sarah Dunbar Soprano

Even before my first concert with Lost Chord, I knew the basic power of music. I knew that it can heal and bring joy to people of all ages and stages in life. However, I was truly struck by the sheer magic that music can produce and saw some responses that blew my mind.

A trepidatious start

Walking into one particular care home in Sheffield, I saw many elderly people. Some slumped in chairs, others in wheelchairs. One woman was whining and crying to a carer; tugging frantically on her sleeve. Another resident was trying to get up whilst repeatedly being asked to “sit back down” by her exhausted looking visitor. Others were chatting, mumbling to themselves, rocking in their chairs or being fed by a care assistant. I felt my chest tighten and my heart pick up a pace. I thought to myself: “how are you going to make a difference to these people who are clearly suffering? Is singing them a little song really going to do anything? You’re no nurse; what you know about medicine is frankly not worth knowing!” I felt a bit silly, hopeless and was looking for the nearest exit.

The transformation

However, after introducing myself and my lovely pianist, I started my first song (‘The Trolly Song’ made famous by the legend that is Judy Garland). I smiled and made eye-contact, walking around the room, singing to the residents feigning confidence and ease. My aim was to radiate joy and love through the song. To my amazement, one woman began singing along with me. Her voice was melodious and she knew every word.

The next song, ‘Moon River’, had a calming effect on the more agitated residents in the audience. I saw them relax, smile and appear as though they were transported to a time where they first heard this song. As our programme went on, we witnessed residents clapping, dancing and moving in time with the music.

“This is the happiest I’ve seen this man since the day he arrived”

At another care home there was a gentlemen at the back of the room who had a carer by his side. He looked completely expressionless and was quite immobile slumped in his chair. During the course of the concert I plucked up the courage to start what I call “working on” this man. I smiled and sang directly to him; looked deep into his eyes and held his hand. To the amazement of the carer he started singing the song back to me with the widest grin on his face! The carer was shocked and had tears in her eyes, visibly moved. He then slowly got up out of his chair with the aid of his zimmer-frame and moved from side to side; singing along with perfect pitch. The carer took me to one side after the concert and told me; “This is the happiest I’ve seen this man since the day he arrived. He never utters a word normally”, she confided. “His voice…I had no idea…it’s so beautiful”, she gasped pulling me in for an embrace.

older gentleman showing music is medicine

Source: Shutterstock

The impact

Countless other concerts I have witnessed ‘immobile’ residents get up onto their feet and dance; transported to a time when they were agile, care and pain free. We at Lost Chord have amazed carers, baffled medical professionals and astounded family members with the positive response music can make in the lives of these individuals with dementia.

During this debilitating Covid-19 pandemic, Lost Chord have had to be creative and inventive with their work and have managed to deliver concerts virtually on YouTube and Zoom in order to protect the lives of residents and workers in these homes. As a musician it is very frustrating not being able to perform in-person but we hope to be back when this pandemic is over and to continue the essential work of transforming the lives of thousands of individuals.

Music really is medicine and should be given out freely in large doses to all. It is a sheer joy to make just a little difference to the lives of these suffers and we have music to thank.

Sarah Dunbar is one of our Lost Chord musicians. Learn more about her work at the Sarah Dunbar Soprano website. You can discover more perspectives from our Lost Chord musicians here.