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Access All Arts: SoundUp with the RNCM, 2018

This was a 4-week Access All Arts workshop series funded by Go Think Big, as part of their music for health entrepreneurial investment programme. This project connected the opera students working on the RNCM's production of Gianni Schicchi to the residents at Belong Morris Feinmann in Didsbury. The workshops were multi-sensory and are designed to engage all residents including those living with dementia. We ran four workshops aimed at sharing the joy of opera, and exploring the themes of Puccini's comic masterpiece. Our workshops promoted a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. 

The sessions included an introduction to the characters, storyline and themes in Gianni Schicchi, however these elements were explored through a range of engaging interactive activities including crafts, sensory activities, group music-making, handling of costume and props and dance. The workshops also featured performances of arias from the opera sung by the cast from the RNCM Masters course. Each week we had a sing-a-long of the famous song 'Oh Mio Babbino Caro' in order to promote auditory memory and familiarity with the music. Our sessions were informal allowing the residents to discuss and explore the operatic art form with the RNCM opera students, getting to know the musicians, and stepping into the world of the opera in an accessible and enjoyable way.  Before the workshop series, all RNCM student volunteers were trained in workshop facilitation and dementia awareness by SoundUp Arts. 


Following the workshops the residents from Belong Morris Feinmann came to see a dementia-friendly performance of the show in the RNCM opera theatre in early December. 


“It was very lovely, and as a volunteer it filled me with joy and purpose.”

Week 1

This week featured three wonderful volunteers; pianist Celia and singers Caroline and Michael who played the lead roles in the RNCM's production of ‘Gianni Schicchi’. We had 21 participants who attended accompanied by 3 care staff from Belong. 


The workshop was received very positively, and the response we got from many participants was brilliant. The group included both residents living with dementia and those who were not, for this reason we designed the workshop with the aim to appeal and engage all participants. We ran range of activities that provoked a variety of sensory and cognitive explorations, this approach worked well and feedback from Belong's Activities Coordinator was that this variation and range of creative tasks encouraged engagement and inclusion of all residents, something that she recognised has been difficult to achieve in past care-home interventions and activities. 


There were many lovely moments throughout the workshop, however a particular highlight was the Italian dancing activity, were all participants enjoyed the opportunity to listen to live piano music, and be involved in the music making by playing hand percussion instruments. Some participants chose to stand up and dance, which was encouraged and supported by the volunteers and staff, however the entire group was able to be involved at their own ability level; be that singing along, playing percussion or dancing in their seat. A resident living with more advanced dementia was tapping her feet to the beat, this was a wonderful example, where we saw the whole group being connected, expressive and communicating their enjoyment together in their own individual way. 

Week 2

Our second workshop at Belong Morris Feinmann was themed around family and love; two prominent messages in Gianni Schicchi. This week we were joined by Stephanie and Yuliya from the RNCM opera course, Susanna who was helping facilitate the workshop and pianist Celia. 


This week we did a variety of sensory and creative activities. We started the workshop off with some object handling, on each table there were objects from the RNCM prop store, the array was varied however all related in some way to family, passions or love. The group was encouraged to explore and think about the items, and the workshop facilitators guided this experience with some open ended questions. A particular favourite was the styrofoam potato and onion which looked very realistic until they were picked up, something that astonished and delighted many participants. 


We had performances of arias from the opera, and discussed the characters, and the themes of family and love. Each participant was then given a hexagonal card tile with "love is..." written on it. They were given the freedom to write or draw whatever response they liked on their personal tile. While they drew, Celia played calming piano music which was a lovely way to engage people who chose not to participate in the craft activity. Through reflecting and creating, many residents wanted to share stories of their loved ones, their marriages, family or children. It was wonderful to see that the craft prompted shared and personal reflection. These hexagonal tiles fit together in a pattern, the idea behind them is that with each participant's hexagonal tile, a larger art-work can be made, this will be gifted to Belong at the end of the workshop series. 


This week's workshop was once again very well attended and we had 23 residents and 3 care staff participate, once again their was an integration of the residents living with dementia and those who are not. This is wonderful as it encourages inclusion and breaks down the stigma which can be attached to dementia. The staff and volunteer facilitators commented that the creative activity opened up a lovely dialogue amongst the participants of their loved ones, families and marriages

Week 3

This week we ran our third ‘Opera-Tune Thoughts’ workshop at Belong Morris Feinmann. We had 25 participants and 3 care staff attending this time, our biggest group to date. We welcomed four lovely RNCM performing volunteers Yara, Iain, Nye and Susanna who helped facilitate the workshop and engage the residents.


We began the session with an exploration of costumes. The RNCM wardrobe department generously lent us a great variety of costumes from their store, these ranged from silk stockings to leather corsets, 1920’s hats and gloves to a string vest. The participants found great joy in exploring the items. We had people try them on or see them modelled on the volunteers. 


This week we tried a new activity: emotions BINGO. Here the participants were given a bingo sheet of various emotional descriptions such as ‘happy, sad, desperate, passionate’. We then played audio from famous opera arias, and for each aria asked the group to circle any emotion they perceived was being expressed. Once they had a row of 4 they shouted ‘BINGO’ and the first one to do so won a prize, a special edition CD of famous opera arias. This exercise was something that we trialled, and overall it went very well. Certainly, some participants needed more assistance than others in engaging with the task, however on the whole it seemed that the exercise was enjoyable and provided a new way for people to engage in listening and perceiving music. Many members came close to BINGO however ultimately we had one very happy winner, who promised to play the CD in a communal area of the home so that everyone could share in the prize! 

Week 4

              “I would like to thank Lucy and all the wonderful Singers, Musicians and Support team who gave up their time to come along for four weeks to our Care Village. At first we did not quite know what to expect but under Lucy’s magnificent management we realised we were in for a wonderful time. This also meant I could relax and enjoy witnessing the pure joy the music brought to our residents, some with dementia, some not. Either way it does not matter as we are all one here and music connects at all levels. Resonates and taps into deep emotion, as we saw each week with wonderful Arthur, who sang his heart out along with the Opera Singers! Thank you! Let’s hope that this can become an on-going project. I feel privileged to have been part of this project and know our residents and their families will talk about this for a very long time.”

Activities Coordinator,
Belong Morris Feinmann Care Village


This week saw a heartfelt farewell from the residents and staff at Belong as we delivered our fourth and final SoundUp workshop in the 'Opera-Tune Thoughts' series 2018. To culminate the series with spirit we wanted to end with a celebratory theme, and decided to bring the mystery, entertainment, fun and music of an Italian Masked Ball to Belong Morris Feinmann. This week we were joined by three wonderful performing volunteers, Caroline, Ieuan and Nye who wholeheartedly embraced the masquerade theme and were brilliant at heightening the celebratory atmosphere in the session. 


To immediately set the festive tone of the workshop, the room was laid out with various feathered, painted and embroidered masks which were borrowed from the RNCM costume department. As residents entered the room they were given a personalised invitation to the masquerade ball and explained one to one the concept behind the workshop. This more personalised approach allowed for the residents to express their memories of celebrations or travel. Many were delighted by the theme, with one resident explaining that she had once loved visiting Florence, but never before had she been to a masked ball. 

During the workshop we enjoyed performances from the singers, and engaged in several interactive movement and singing activities. We also invited participants to decorate their own mask, by offering a selection of stick-on jewels and blank card masks. Once the group had made their masks, we all imagined attending our very special masquerade ball. We celebrated together with dancing, music-making, and a final sing-along. 


At the end of the workshop we presented the home with the finished honey-comb tile artwork, which the group had co-created in the second workshop. This was received with wonderful thanks and residents enjoyed finding their tile among the collection. Upon finishing the session, we received wonderful appreciation from both staff and residents. One that particularly stood out was a resident who stood up and announced that he had skipped his breakfast that morning in order to come to the session, and he concluded it was worth it. 

Our inaugural workshop series was a pleasure to run. It would not have been possible without the support from the RNCM opera department, and the wonderful Mel, Elaine and Becky from RNCM's tech and wardrobe departments who generously loaned props and costumes for the project, which added such a wonderful dimension to the sessions. Thank you also to the RNCM marketing department and Hallam for offering to document the project and making a film that summarises our work. 


We are enormously grateful to have worked with such a wonderful, giving and spirited group of performers, who volunteered their time and generously shared their talents. A massive thank you to Celia, Nye, Caroline, Michael, Yuliya, Stephanie, Yara, Iain, Ieuan and Susanna- who together shared their talent and joy in the workshops. 


We would like to say a special thanks to the wonderful staff at Belong Morris Feinmann. In particular Angela, who was instrumental in bringing about these workshops. Thank you for your endorsement and advertisement of the program to residents, coming each week and being so warm, appreciative and welcoming.


Thank you most of all to the residents who came and enjoyed our workshop series. Your humour, enthusiasm and engagement is the very reason why we run these workshops, and it was such a delight to share music and the arts with such a wonderful group of people.

Thank you

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