How care home singer Matt is keeping music live
Entertainer Matt Jones-Green is a singer in care homes, who has had to find a new way to keep in live during lockdown.
Here Matt explains how, despite being poorly with cancer and in self-isolation, he has brought music to hundreds of people.
What a great feeling it was to be able to reconnect, albeit from my spare room, with familiar faces, and to see those faces light up to the sound of music, he writes.
This is what I do in “normal times”. I swoop into homes endeavouring to deliver an hour of musical entertainment, make real connections through the music, chat, evoke memories.
On the whole, it works well. Sing age-appropriate songs, that is 1950s and increasingly ’60s rock ’n’ roll, pop, country and western invariably the crowd pleasers.
You have to be prepared to listen to the audience, be ready to engage with some chat or even banter ... and know when not to.
These are the fundamentals I have picked up during my five years of being a care home entertainer, the most profoundly fulfilling chapter of my working life.
The current situation, however, has presented a big challenge.The challenge for me is twofold: for the foreseeable future I will be denied normal access to care homes, and therefore cut off from my main livelihood.
Also, my own underlying health issue - namely Non-Hodgkins lymphoma - dictates that I should stay at home and avoid all external contact for at least 12 weeks, removing for me the option of setting up outside and serenading Romeo-style from the garden or car park, which I have seen others valiantly attempting.
So, returning to my spare room, where the only way I can connect with the outside world is through the technology.
I think by now everyone knows about Zoom, which seems to have become the video conferencing platform du jour.
I am not quite sure how it has managed so easily to supersede Skype and Facetime.
It has even become a verb, like Google or WhatsApp ... “shall we Zoom this evening?”
At first I was dubious of the effectiveness of entertaining from a distance, but I thought I would give it a go.
Now, with a handful of live Zoom sessions under my belt I know with real certainty that, despite the physical distance, the music can still make its way through with real power.
I can still perform, invite requests, share anecdotes as I could back in our former, pre COVID-19 world.
My initial vision, when setting up live music sessions online, was that I would appear on the large flat-screen TV which is the focal point of most care home communal areas I have visited.
It seemed the obvious place for me to appear. However, there are other options I had not initially thought of, getting around potential technical issues associated with connecting a computer, tablet or smartphone to a TV.
One session I did with a home in York involved me on a laptop being wheeled around different areas on a trolley.
This actually worked really well and enabled me to perform to individuals and respond more easily to requests.
This became a virtual version of the individual serenades I often do in some homes.These one-to-one sessions can be particularly powerful, especially when singing to bedridden residents who may be entering the final stages of life.
Another solution that a couple of homes have adopted successfully is to project my image on a large screen or wall.
Perhaps directing focus away from the TV in this way creates more of an event to grab attention; more than just something else to watch on the telly.
So the potential is there, in this brave new world we face, to keep the music going.
A shared live music experience, in my view, continues to be a crucial factor in the wellbeing of elderly residents of care and nursing homes, maybe even more so in these times.
It’s the language we all have in common, and the benefits to physical and mental health are well documented.
Understandably, homes currently have other issues on their minds; they are in the thick of it just now, doing their utmost to protect the lives of their residents despite ongoing shortages of personal protective equipment.
It has therefore been difficult, so far, to reach out to wellbeing teams and activities coordinators to discuss how I can continue to provide interactive live music sessions under lockdown conditions.
I have attempted to make it as simple as possible for care home residents to benefit from a regular live music experience.