Visual to Vocal combined the unique resources of the Dulwich Picture Gallery (the place itself and its collection) with the talents of composers, writers and professional singers. The project aim was to create a participative arts experience for approximately 10 people living with a dementia and their carers. The group participated in seven singing and song-writing sessions at the gallery. Then, after an additional session, the group rehearsed their song-cycle and performed it at a formal concert.
Each weekly session lasted for two hours (1.30pm – 3.30pm) and took place at the Gallery on successive Thursdays from 24th October to 5th December 2013. The sessions followed a similar structure each week. The group gathered in a warm and comfortable room near the café, where tables were decorated with flowers and laid for tea.
Tea, coffee, cake and biscuits: a serious business
Each participant and their carer was individually welcomed and offered refreshments.The project coordinator, who mentioned that she would have liked more time to layout the tables each week, highlighted the importance of the tea. Conversation over warm beverages, sandwiches, biscuits and cake was friendly and unthreatening, and helped to develop social cohesion between all present. Participants seemed comfortable, even when choosing to remain silent.
Into the gallery
Following the tea, a sense of the session starting was established. Staff gently invited participants and carers into the main gallery to view a picture. As the group, in an unhurried but steady fashion, moved towards the main gallery there was a tangible, albeit gradual, coming together of the various participants and an air of expectationand purpose. Gallery staff (curators and volunteers) gathered everyone around aparticular painting, ensuring that participants were seated, comfortable and could see.A curator offered observations about the work of art before inviting comments from the group. The dramatic John Van Ruisdael painting ‘A Waterfall’ created in the early 1660s was the focus of one session. The curator encouraged the group to look closely at the work and to say what they saw as well as how the painting made them feel. The painting is both explicit and symbolic: it captures an internal or metaphorical landscape as well as water falling. The words offered by the participants and their carers indicated that they were responding to this important symbolic and emotional aspect of the work. The painting was discussed for approximately fifteen minutes before the group moved back into the initial meeting room to work with a writer,musicians and a composer.
If music be the food of love
The musical sessions began each week with vocal warm ups. Using words inspired by the painting and captured by the project writer, participants and carers were encouraged to ‘sing out’ tunes, tap rhythms. An image of the painting that had just been seen was projected onto a wall. Other art forms, including poetry and musicsympathetic to the chosen painting were also used for stimulation. In this fashion,guided by the expertise of professional writer, composer and singer, songs were created.
Over the course of the project, seven songs, inspired by the paintings, were collaboratively composed by the group.
This year’s programme concluded with a live, very moving performance at the Gallery on 12 December 2013.
A film (approx. 9 minutes) that includes scenes from the workshops and also the final concert can be viewed here Visual to Vocal film
View all of Keara’s illustrations here
Visit the Dulwich Picture Gallery here