Buxton International Festival: Music helps to mend minds

The Northern Chamber Orchestra.
The Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Music’s astonishing power to help people live well with dementia will be explored at Buxton International Festival on July 16 when the Northern Chamber Orchestra (NCO) present a concert taken from their Mind Music programme.

The NCO developed Mind Music to raise awareness of dementia, from high profile fund-raising concerts to working in care homes as part of therapy while generating crucial data for research into how music can improve and repair cognitive functions.

The loss by members of the Orchestra of close family members or friends led the NCO to create a programme of music written by composers who either had dementia or were influenced by their experiences of it. This led to a highly regarded CD, conducted by Stephen Barlow, the Festival’s Artistic Director.

“There are very few people out there who haven’t had personal experience of this,” said NCO General Manager Tom Elliott, whose father died recently from a neurodegenerative condition.

“We want to make people realise how valuable it is to use music to make their lives better and raise funds. We hope it is going to be a new branch of what we do that is as important as our education programme. It is about living, not dying, with dementia, and making sure that during the many years that most people will have the disease they are still getting the most out of life. Music has a part to play in that.”

The concert in St John’s Church will include works by Mendelssohn who suffered from what we now know was a form of vascular dementia, Ravel, who had frontotemporal dementia, Aaron Copland, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and a piece by James Manson, the NCO’s principal bass, written while he was caring for a relative suffering from dementia.

James’ work features traditional songs which the Shaker sect would sing together at their meetings: “It’s a very powerful way to ignite memories of things,” said Tom. “A song can do that in a way that nothing else can.”

Stephanie Larkin, the Alzheimer’s Society’s Greater Manchester Community Fundraiser, added: “Some people may not be able to communicate verbally, and yet sing their hearts out for an hour and a half. It’s astonishing.”

The Alzheimer’s Society has asked one of its Buxton volunteers to introduce the NCO concert.

Mind Music supports Parkinson's UK, the Alzheimer's Society and the PSP Association, which supports people living with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

The NCO’s concert will feature Verdi’s prelude from Aida, Manson’s Meeting at Nisqueunia, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Schumann’s Traumerie for Violin and Orchestra, Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin and Mendelssohn’s Konzertstucke No 2.

If you would like to know more about this work, or feel inclined to support them, call the NCO office on 0161 247 2220.

The concert starts at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £25, can be booked on 01298 72190 or at www.buxtonfestival.co.uk.