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UK City of Culture uses music to support people with dementia

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The UK’s City of Culture is seizing the power of music to increase its support for people in the community living with dementia. 

Coventry University is working with The Orchestra of the Swan to bring classical music to the city and use this to aid those living with the neurodegenerative condition.

The Orchestra of the Swan is a British chamber orchestra and will be the university’s, as well as the city’s, orchestra-in-residence for the UK City of Culture year, which began in May 2021.

As well as hosting a number of concerts at prominent venues across the city, including its Drapers’ Hall and iconic Cathedral, the orchestra will also help to train Coventry University students in music therapy for people with dementia. 

Once trained, the students will then volunteer with the orchestra’s client care  homes, as part of a joint outreach project to help increase the levels of provision for those with dementia. 

Dr Geoff Willcocks, Coventry University’s director of arts, culture and heritage, said: “We have many great musical groups in Coventry, but we really lack a professional orchestra. 

“In a small way, for the City of Culture year, Coventry University is filling that gap, and we are thrilled to be working with our long-term partners The Orchestra of the Swan to make this happen.

“Music is one of the most powerful ways in which we can connect with our memories and our past. 

“The dementia music therapy that our students will be undertaking over the next year will help many people who live with dementia. I hope that this will be the start of a legacy program that sees our students helping older generations live better and more fulfilled lives.”

The Orchestra of the Swan is based at the Stratford Play House in Stratford-upon-Avon and has a history of helping people through outreach work.

Debbie Jagla, managing director, Orchestra of the Swan, said: “Since 2014, The Swan has delivered hundreds of workshops in care homes, dementia and wellbeing cafés benefitting over 10,000 people living with dementia in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Birmingham.

“The benefits are extensive, with improvement in cognition including memory and attention, whilst reducing agitation, anxiety and depression. 

“We are thrilled to be working with Coventry University students to pass on our knowledge and open up more opportunities for students to engage with the Warwickshire community. 

“Having the chance to perform regularly in the newly-refurbished Drapers’ Hall is icing on the cake, and we look forward to sharing our cross-genre approach with the Coventry community.” 

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