Music with people living with Dementia – 2020 ambitions

There has been a significant upsurge in publications and initiatives focussing on music and dementia in the last few weeks. A new national programme funded by The Utley Foundation – Music for Dementia was announced earlier this month. This will be given a significant boost through BBC Music Day taking place on 26th September this year. The BBC will join the campaign to ensure that there is music available to everyone living with dementia by 2020.

Orchestras Live published their report on orchestral activity involving older people, including people living with dementia last Friday;

“From Bingo to Bartok”

Creative and Innovative Approaches to involving older people with Orchestras

Baring Foundation also released a Treasury of Arts Activities which offers 50 different arts based activities that could be used when working creatively with people living with dementia as well as some general pointers for people interested in working in this way.

I’m hoping that this increasing interest will stimulate collaborative co-creative thinking around the provision of music in the care of people living with dementia. There’s always the possibility that more and more toolkits and publications will be produced by  organisations and that people living with dementia and those who care for them will be confronted by an information jungle with no guidance on know where to turn.

Diversity of provision is essential but access to provision needs to be streamlined and simplified. It’s also essential that people living with dementia and their immediate carers have a strong voice in the emerging discussions.

The So Many Beauties (SMB) approach is to work co-creatively with people living with dementia. Between now and September, I will be having creative conversations (verbal and musical) with the wonderful people I work alongside through SMB. Together we will explore what Music for Dementia 2020 means to them, what they want, what empowers them the most. Who knows where these exciting discussions will lead? Let’s throw ideas into the air and see where they land!


(Working “in character” with Marianne Clarac, music for health expert and clown doctor at MRI Hospital in Manchester)


Call for volunteer musicians!

Exciting news! I am looking for musicians from the voluntary/amateur music making community to take part in the next phase of the So Many Beauties project! If you are interested in learning how to create new music, poems and songs or simply sharing your own musical talents with people living with dementia, this project might be just the project for you!

Have a look at the information below to see if this is something you might like to be part of. The project carries on in 2019 so if you’re not available before Christmas you can still register your interest.

celebrate the day of heartscelebrate the day of hearts-8

Live recording now available

The live recording of the world premiere of So Many Beauties is now available online at Soundcloud. We hope you’ll enjoy listening via the link below! Here’s a review of the concert by St George’s member Joe Keaney.

“So many beauties” exclaimed the Polish lady with dementia when composer, singer and kora player Holly Marland and her ensemble of musicians performed by her bedside as part of a project to give people with dementia the chance to create a new musical work celebrating their creativity.

Her intuition inspired the title of Holly’s joyous and touching patchwork quilt oratorio that had its world premiere to a rapt audience at a packed Manchester Cathedral on 6th April.

Holly had assembled a children’s choir, a carers’ choir and a strong contingent of BBC Daily Service Singers and St George’s Singers, plus a musical ensemble of RNCM students under the baton of Sasha Johnson Manning for the occasion and what a belting celebration of life and the affirmative power of music they all gave!

She had recorded over 80 hours of creative material from people living with dementia and all their remarks and tunefulness weaved into this mesmerizing musical tapestry. The uplifting inclusiveness of “You’re welcome at my door” and  “God painted nature”  ran alongside the fun of “Beryl dancing in the starlight”,   “Yankety tankety” and memories of shepherd’s pie.  Musical rhythms oscillated from evocations of chilly winter to the sultry Nile by way of the familiarity of “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” and “When the Saints go marching in”.

Amid so much sunshine, Holly’s own plaintive alto solo on the Polish refrain “Moja Piekna” and “So Many Beauties” were most affecting, reflecting the shimmering vulnerability of life’s conditionality.

As the evening closed with everyone joining in “the Saints” the audience’s standing ovation echoed a specialist’s opening remarks, that we dwell not on what is lost in dementia but celebrate what is still there, alive and beating, which music can draw on and connect with. The warm, heartfelt, sustained audience applause was a tribute to that connection.”

Joe Keaney


“What a triumph!” So Many Beauties premiere “nailed it”

SMB rehearsal 2

Over 100 performers and more than 300 audience members came together for the world premiere of So Many Beauties at Manchester Cathedral last Thursday 6 April. This was the culmination of the first phase of the Adages project, created by composer and musician Holly Marland to give people with dementia the opportunity to create a beautiful new piece of choral music. Manchester Cathedral’s rafters reverberated with the joyful sounds of singing and instruments – sending out a very positive message about the incredible creativity of people with dementia. Representatives of 11 different organisations supporting people with dementia were also showcasing their services so people had the chance to pick up relevant information and to make new connections with support services.

We will be posting photos, video and audio from the concert on the Blog over the coming weeks so please stay tuned.

Audience feedback

“It was lovely, respectful and moving”

“Much more fun than I was expecting””We thoroughly enjoyed the concert and were so impressed with all the hard work that project leader/choir/orchestra/helpers/conductor have obviously put in. What a team effort”

“Confirmed the importance of music for me – a very uplifting experience”

“The pieces were far more emotive than I had expected (sad/happy/haunting/beautiful). I had expected a’whole’ piece. The separate shorter pieces woven into the whole evening reminded me of time with my relative (sister in law with dementia) moving from happy/sad/anxious/beautiful all in the same moment.”

SMB Rehearsal

“It was gorgeous! So many lovely melodies – every one a winner. Thoroughly enjoyable”

“Inspirational. Joyous and deeply moving”

“The piece has given me the idea that this is what an oratorio should be like. This concert was a triumph and a wonderful achievement for Holly and the team”

“I was very impressed by the empathy and creativity that had made such enjoyable and fun music and am more aware of different kinds of communication”

“I hadn’t realised the power of music before”

“It surpassed my expectations! Loved the humour”

SMB Rehearsal 3

Great rehearsal for So Many Beauties

Members of many local choirs joined forces for yesterday’s first rehearsal of So Many Beauties which premieres this Thursday at Manchester Cathedral. Members of Golden Voices Choir, Carers Chorus, Three Valleys Choir, Bowdon Choir, St George’s Singers, Manchester Chorale and Manchester Chamber Chorus were directed by Rose Hodgson, Holly Marland and Sasha Johnson Manning who were joined by the RNCM student participants on the Adages Project with Christopher Stokes, Director of Music at Manchester Cathedral on the piano. The rehearsal took place at RNCM who are partnering the project. Singers offered lovely feedback about the piece of music, some even moved to tears. You can get your tickets for this wonderful occasion at It’s advised to buy a ticket in advance to minimise queues on the door. We’re looking forward to welcoming you there!

Acclaimed artist Dawn Prescott @jungleprawn @limearthealth created So Many Beauties artwork. Win posters in raffle!

so many bauties a3 poster

Dawn Prescott is an award winning visual artist and designer based in Manchester. She has a degree in Interactive Art and a professional background working as a graphic designer and illustrator. Dawn created the So Many Beauties artwork and programme brochure.

Dawn has been a member of Hot Bed Press Print Makers Studio since 2013 where she experiments with different printmaking processes. Her current personal work explores the drawn line extending its possibilities through different processes such as etching, lithography and screen printing.

Dawn is also the Director of LIME based at Central Manchester Hospitals. LIME is a multi-award winning arts organisation with international recognition for establishing one of the leading arts and health programmes in the UK.

Dawn has kindly agreed to allow us to offer posters of her original artwork as raffle prizes at the event on Thursday 6 April at 7pm Manchester Cathedral. The artwork features themes and lyrics from the piece as well as Dawn’s own artistic interpretations following collaborative discussions with project lead Holly Marland.

Do get your tickets for the event in advance if you can so we can avoid long queues at the door and get everyone all nice and comfortable in good time! We’re going to be “Having up a lovely time!” as one of the project participants with dementia commented during one of the music sessions.

Tickets are available at

So many Beauties – poetry and creativity

Here’s one of the poems written with people with dementia which will feature in the So Many Beauties Performance. It will be performed by Manchester Children’s Choir who are one of several groups taking part in the event. Singers from age 10 to over 70 are involved in the concert which is a celebration of the creativity of people with dementia.


Spring tastes like water,

Spring water is cold, cold and bubbly –

definitely bubbly.

Spring feels new and Spring feels blue,

Spring looks like daffodils, bulbs, tulips,

It looks green and young, smells like crocuses.

Spring feels like waiting for what’s coming –

To be alive like me, to be happy, yes happy and awake!

Spring sounds chirpy,

Lambs gambolling,

With all that Spring in the air!

Here’s the setting of this poem to music which the children will be singing

Meet Eleanor, one of the student team!


Eleanor is one of the students participating on the Adages project which has involved creative sessions with older people with dementia and has unlocked a multitude of ideas and inspiration that have been woven into to beautiful new piece of music.

Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks stated that, ‘Music is part of being human…Its’ very ubiquity may cause it to be trivialised in daily life…But to those who are lost in dementia, the situation is different. Music is no luxury to them, but a necessity, and can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while.’

Music has an incredible capacity to restore agency in the most vulnerable people. It can offer relaxation and stimulation and can mediate where words fail, providing a means of communication for those who are non-verbal.

Eleanor worked alongside lead musician Holly Marland in delivering creative sessions in different dementia care settings. These  involved residents and patients singing, writing poetry, having creative conversations and improvising using percussion. The ideas generated through these sessions have been arranged and orchestrated, with the title of the piece drawn from a remark from a Polish lady with dementia as musicians played beside her bedside – ‘So Many Beauties’.

Eleanor had a terrific rapport with the participants who were clearly charmed and enlivened by the sound of her bassoon and her beautiful singing. She created a range of textures that met the sounds being made by residents and was fluent and supportive working within the team.

Here’s what Eleanor has to tell us;

“I’m a first year postgraduate bassoon student at the Royal Northern College of Music. I completed my undergraduate degree in music at the University of Nottingham and have been extremely passionate about music performance from a very young age. I have played with, and enjoyed being a part of many chamber groups and orchestras including Bird College Youth Orchestra, University of Nottingham Philharmonia, RNCM Opera Orchestra and the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra. I love the diversity to be found in music as I also play the clarinet and saxophone and love playing different genres of music. This has included jazz as part of The University of Nottingham’s Moonlighters Big Band and in shows such as Sweeney Todd and The Producers at The Nottingham Arts Theatre.

I love music’s ability to connect with so many different people of all ages in different and personal ways. I enjoy volunteering and being a part of music outreach and have recently worked with primary school children to create and rehearse their own original opera which was performed at the RNCM. Being given the opportunity to work beside Holly in her work in Dementia care homes and hospital wards has been an incredible experience from which I have learned so much. It gives me so much joy seeing the moment when music affects someone in any way, and the experiences of residents breaking into song or even just a smile really shows the importance and potential of music itself. Through ‘So Many Beauties’ Holly has shown music to be a completely unique way to communicate and express emotions and stories and I am very excited to be part of a performance that conveys so many people’s thoughts and feelings, perfectly captured by Holly.”

Tickets are available now for the performance on Thursday 6 April at Manchester Cathedral 7pm from at a very reasonable price. The performance is dementia friendly and there will be many representatives from different UK dementia agencies who will be able to answer questions informally after the concert as well as giving out information. Please do support this incredible event!