Updated: Nov 17, 2019
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 I was 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.
The concept to base the session around a masquerade ball was inspired by the themes of disguise, deception and cheekiness in the opera Gianni Schicchi, as the title character disguises himself as Buoso in order to trick the notary into changing the deceased's will in his favour.
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.
When we formally began the session I reiterated the reason behind the theme, and its link to the plot and characters in the opera. I explained that we were going to first get ready for the ball by listening to some music, getting dressed in our finery and then creating our own masks.
Ieuan and Caroline both performed arias that looked at the theme of love. Caroline sang 'Oh Mio Babbino Caro' an aria from Gianni Schicchi which reflected the purpose for Schicchi's deception- to facilitate the union of Lauretta and Rinuccio, ultimately a good and heartfelt outcome from his trickery. Ieuan's performance of 'Some Enchanted Evening' was particularly pertinent to the theme as it describes seeing a loved one across a crowded room. After the performances the participants were all given blank masks, and the workshop volunteers and staff members came around to each individual and gave them a choice of stickers to decorate their masks with. Whilst we did this, Nye played atmospheric piano music. This creative activity went very well, the individualism of going to each resident and letting them choose how they wished to decorate their mask seemed to empower a strong sense of ownership and individualism amongst participants, whilst still allowing them to engage and be assisted by the volunteers who could peel off the stickers if needed. By offering simple choices it seemed as though residents who may have been apprehensive about a creative activity felt more secure in being involved, noticeably more participants were engaged throughout the task and actively created their own mask compared to week two's honeycomb tile creative activity.
Once we had all made our masks we took our invitations and metaphorically went to the ball. I described the room, the clothes people were wearing and the smart waiters. As I spoke, I left spaces for the details for the residents to fill in- so the participants contributed that the waiters were handing around canapés and champagne. At one point I mimed offering a tray to a participant and asked him if he would like a glass of champagne. I had picked out that participant quickly and as I did so I realised it was someone who previously I had observed did not communicate easily, after a few moments of silence to my delight the participant looked up, smiled and gave a very definitive answer 'of course' which was met by applause and laughter from the room.
We revisited the Tarantella, a Neapolitan dance, from previous weeks which Nye played on the piano. Everyone was again given hand percussion instruments, and encouraged to move and dance to the music. This activity was very enjoyable, and was mentioned as a highlight in volunteer and resident feedback following the session.
Following this we heard performances from Caroline and Ieuan again, which provided a calm change in mood after the vigour of the Tarantella activity. To end our session we sang our sing-along version of 'Oh Mio Babbino Caro'. Again the participants' recognition of the song, and ability to pick it up quickly reinforced the familiarity that came with repeating this activity each week.
We presented the home with the finished honey-comb tile artwork, which was very well received and residents enjoyed finding their tile among the collection. Upon finishing the session we received some lovely thanks and appreciation from both staff and residents. One that particularly struck me 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.
This inaugural workshop series has been a pleasure to run. It would not have been possible without the support from the RNCM opera department. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Lynne and Kevin for endorsing the project. And a special thanks to 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.
I am 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 thanks to Celia, Nye, Caroline, Michael, Yuliya, Stephanie, Yara, Iain, Ieuan and Susanna- who together shared such quality, talent and joy in the workshops.
I 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 programme. 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.