A project that launched in London in lockdown continues to take live music to the doorsteps of isolated or vulnerable residents
Saxophonist and singer Chloe Edwards-Wood is used to performing to large audiences, but that didn’t stop her nerves jangling the first time she played on a stranger’s doorstep.
She did so near her own home in Catford, south-east London, along with another musician from the Give a Song community project.
“It was really terrifying,” recalls Edwards-Wood (main picture, left), “although as soon as we started that first song, a version of the Motown classic Dancing in the Street, the barriers came down. I remember thinking: ‘This is it! It works!’. The person loved it and people stopped to watch and listen and clap along.”
As for many in the music industry, work dried up for Edwards-Wood when the UK entered lockdown. Keen to use her talents somehow, she came up with the idea of singing for people who were shielding or simply struggling. After she posted on Facebook about the concept, about 15 people got in touch, including one of the trustees of the Goldsmiths Community Centre in Lewisham.
“I had no understanding of things like insurance and risk assessments, but the community centre gave me the support to make it all happen,” says Edwards-Wood.
She launched a crowdfunding campaign which, along with grants, means the musicians can be paid.
Since that first doorstep visit 18 months ago, Give a Song has delivered some 360 performances, playing to more than 6,000 people. These include at hundreds of homes in Lewisham, as well as at care homes, at food banks and at several mental health projects.
Frequent song requests include 1940s classics like Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again and Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable. But their most popular tune? Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.
People can nominate a recipient via an online form. Residents then watch or sing along from their doorstep or window as the musicians play outside. Visits are free, although some people choose to make a donation.
Despite the lifting of Covid restrictions, requests are still flooding in. “Loneliness and isolation aren’t unique to the pandemic,” reasons Edwards-Wood, who is in the process of turning Give a Song into a Community Interest Company.
She always knew the power of live music to brighten up people’s days, but wasn’t prepared for quite how much. For one 92-year-old woman who has dementia, the change was particularly dramatic. “The moment we started to play, it was like electricity began to course through her body – she was singing and dancing with us.”
The moment we started to play, it was like electricity began to course through her body
Visits can last just 15 minutes, but the experiences live on beyond the doorstep, Edwards-Wood believes: “It’s also something to discuss and remember and talk about, sometimes for months or longer afterwards.”
And it’s not only the recipients who are benefiting. Since being involved in Give a Song, two musicians have gone on to study music therapy. For Edwards-Wood, it has also proved transformative.
“I don’t know what my life or my mental health would have looked like without this,” she says. “Being able to share all these interactions, all these moments of musical joy, I feel very lucky.”
Main image: Sinah Keller
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