CNMN > Projects > Music Takes You Higher : Collaborative Song-Writing with People Living with Dementia

Pia Kontos, Sherry Dupuis and Christine Jonas-Simpson

  • Voix
  • Instruments acoustiques
  • Instruments rock
  • Adultes
  • Ainés
  • Intergénérationnel

As long as it takes, but normally 6+ months

  • Associations communautaires
  • Santé
  • Mémoire
  • Maladie d’Alzheimer et autres démences
  • La santé mentale

Music Takes You Higher : Collaborative Song-Writing with People Living with Dementia


What does col­la­bo­ra­tive music-making mean to you ?

“I qui­ck­ly rea­li­zed that that was the point, in a way it was just to bring people toge­ther. I would arrive as myself where I was at as an empa­the­tic human being and all of the mem­bers would meet me there with their indi­vi­dual life expe­riences and how they were fee­ling on the day. And we would engage with each other and the art that we would bring to the space. » (Artist, The Bitove Method)


Pur­pose : To use col­la­bo­ra­tive song-wri­ting to unders­tand what music means to people living with demen­tia, build and nur­ture com­pas­sio­nate rela­tion­ships with people living with demen­tia, artists, volun­teers, stu­dents and others, and chal­lenge stig­ma­ti­zing approaches used with people living with dementia.


The Pro­ject and Approach : Most approaches to music with people living with demen­tia are groun­ded in the bio-medi­cal model or per­son-cen­te­red care. The bio­me­di­cal model focuses on disease, symp­tom mana­ge­ment, and func­tio­nal out­comes, whe­reas per­son-cen­te­red care focuses on the indi­vi­dual and uni-direc­tio­nal inter­ac­tions. Both of these approaches fail to cap­ture the cen­tra­li­ty of rela­tion­ships to growth, qua­li­ty of life and well-being. Our approach is groun­ded in rela­tio­nal caring, where we inten­tio­nal­ly attend to rela­tio­nal pro­cesses and use music for life enrich­ment, as a means to sup­port rela­tio­nal capa­ci­ties for connec­tion, and to fos­ter com­pas­sio­nate and reci­pro­cal rela­tion­ships among diverse people. See the Trans­la­ting Rela­tio­nal Caring into Rela­tio­nal Arts han­dout and short video clip cal­led « Music and Rela­tio­nal Caring » for more information.


Music Takes You Higher ori­gi­na­ted as a musi­cal co-crea­tion bet­ween song­wri­ter and Gram­my award win­ner, Simon Law, and mem­bers of the Dot­sa Bitove Well­ness Aca­de­my (DBWA), now known as The Bitove Method. You can learn about Simon Law, the faci­li­ta­tor of our col­la­bo­ra­tive music-making pro­cess, in the short video clip « Meet Simon ». You can also meet some of the mem­bers living with with demen­tia that were invol­ved in our pro­cess by wat­ching the video clips « Meet Allan », « Meet Robert », and « Meet Sheru ». 

The DBWA is an arts-based aca­de­my for people living with demen­tia where the arts are valued not as the­ra­py or cli­ni­cal inter­ven­tion but as a medium for rela­tio­nal caring and life enrich­ment. The song was part of a lar­ger pro­ject conduc­ted by Chris­tine Jonas-Simp­son, Sher­ry Dupuis, Pia Kon­tos and Gail Mit­chell and fun­ded by the Alzheimer’s Socie­ty of Cana­da Research Pro­gram, to explore expe­riences of musi­cal enga­ge­ment and the mea­ning of music in the lives of aca­de­my mem­bers. The pro­ject culmi­na­ted in the crea­tion of a docu­men­ta­ry film to cap­ture those mea­nings and expe­riences and chal­lenge the stig­ma asso­cia­ted with demen­tia. You can view the trai­ler or the full docu­men­ta­ry film by cli­cking on the video links below.


Our Pro­cess :


Step 1 : Start with a rela­tio­nal acti­vi­ty that helps the mem­bers in your groups connect with one ano­ther. It could be as simple as playing recor­ded music or live col­la­bo­ra­tive music and then having a conver­sa­tion about the music and what it means to them. Alter­na­ti­ve­ly invite people to be invol­ved in a sha­ring circle of curio­si­ty where mem­bers contri­bute thoughts on how they are fee­ling and sup­port each other in those fee­lings. Wha­te­ver acti­vi­ty you choose, use it as way to tran­si­tion bet­ween what people were doing before arri­ving and their invol­ve­ment in your col­la­bo­ra­tive song-wri­ting session/class/engagement.


Step 2 : Begin the lyric wri­ting enga­ge­ment using a brains­tor­ming ses­sion. You can explore any topic of inter­est to your group ; ours was what music means and we asked ques­tions, such as :


  • « What does music mean to you ? »
  • « What is it like to have music in your lives ? »
  • « How does music relate to you ? »


Before you begin, explain what you are doing and why. Record all the res­ponses on a flip chart. To embo­dy the rela­tio­nal caring prin­ciples, you will want to be sure to include all mem­bers of your group in this crea­tive pro­cess. To help mem­bers think about what music means, engage them acti­ve­ly in music-making through sin­ging, drum­ming, dan­cing, playing uku­lele etc., and then ask what that expe­rience felt like to draw out more ideas of what music means to them. You can use wha­te­ver crea­tive pro­cess fits your group and faci­li­tates  free­dom to par­ti­ci­pate and express ideas in diverse ways.

Here are some examples of our mem­bers” ans­wers to the ques­tions that were asked :


  • « Music to me is like when you eat a nice piece of cake […]; it just comes to me and I just love it. »
  • « To me, music is the grea­test equa­li­zer because music ligh­tens the room. »
  • « Music is my whole world. »
  • « [Music] makes you hap­py and takes the sad part away. »
  • « Music is soul connection. »
  • « Music is a mes­sage sent to the brain to enjoy happiness »


Step 3 : Col­la­bo­rate in the wri­ting of the lyrics. The res­ponses to the ques­tions (Step 2) and the brains­tor­ming session(s) become the basis for the col­la­bo­ra­tive wri­ting of song lyrics. Review the words, phrases and images recor­ded on the flip chart sheets, and invite mem­bers to look for com­mon themes, words, and ideas, or quotes. Ask what ideas go toge­ther ; you may find one lea­ding idea emerges. For us it was “music takes you higher”. This ideas stage, where you are explo­ring dif­ferent words and lyrics is a key stage. This is your mem­bers’ own expres­sion of an idea, which should always be cen­tral. Work col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve­ly with your group to deve­lop phrases based on com­mon themes ; you can choose to rhyme or not. Your role is to open up paths to crea­tive expres­sion for people living with demen­tia and find ways to make their contri­bu­tions work together.


Step 4 : Create the music, which you can do by star­ting with either the melo­dic line and then adding har­mo­ny, or with a series of chords. Depen­ding on your fami­lia­ri­ty with wri­ting music you can choose for the melo­dy to reflect the lyrics, or not. Start by asking the group ‘What emo­tions do you feel from our lyrics?’ ‘What emo­tions do you want our song to cap­ture?’ Ans­wers to these and simi­lar ques­tions help esta­blish the tone and style for the music. This step can be under­ta­ken col­lec­ti­ve­ly with a faci­li­ta­tor or wor­king with a musi­cian who creates the melo­dy and then uses the col­la­bo­ra­tive pro­cess for feed­back and deve­lop­ment. Whi­che­ver crea­tive route you take for the music, you will want to ask your entire group what they think of the melo­dy line and be open to their sug­ges­tions and ideas for how it might go dif­fe­rent­ly, lea­ving open the pos­si­bi­li­ty of change and reas­sess­ment so that the music is owned by eve­ryone. Active, care­ful lis­te­ning, and repea­ting words your group is using will help you to embo­dy rela­tio­nal caring.


Step 5 : Com­bine the music and lyrics, share, prac­tice and “per­form” with your group. Using the musi­cal and rela­tio­nal talents within your group will sup­port buil­ding connec­tions and being open to mutual influences and lear­ning. Invite your par­ti­ci­pants to share if they play an ins­tru­ment (or have done so in the past) and look for ways to include that contri­bu­tion. Include them in deve­lo­ping rhyth­mi­cal riffs for the song, for example. Your com­mu­ni­ty will sing their words from the heart. If you choose to record your song, the rela­tio­nal caring phi­lo­so­phy will guide you to include all mem­bers of the group, by embra­cing their abi­li­ties, sup­por­ting the crea­ti­vi­ty of your group, and remem­be­ring not to wor­ry about any per­cei­ved inac­cu­ra­cies. Simon des­cribes more about our pro­cess in the video clips « Trans­for­ma­tio­nal Power of Music Making » and « Col­la­bo­ra­tive Crea­tive Pro­cess ». Consi­der tea­ching your group Music Takes you Higher using the Karaoke Sing-Along ver­sion avai­lable below.


Tips and stra­te­gies for sup­por­ting rela­tio­nal music-making can be found in the Trans­la­ting Rela­tio­nal Caring into Rela­tio­nal Arts handout.

lire la suite +



Galerie d'images