Magic moments

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

Music and Memory miracle moment“… It’s as if they’re coming to life from a cocoon. It mainly starts with the eyes – a smile, a look at me and the guitar… Some even get up and dance, or start calling out words. The many happy outcomes and benefits have been so amazing that I’m now doing this as part of my career.”

The career is that of James Hogg – founder of Music and Memories – who uses his musical talents to provide reminiscence sessions to connect with people with dementia. 

Just as James shies away from calling himself a ‘performer’ or ‘entertainer’ (it belies the interaction going on) so he also resists using the word ‘therapy’. “Therapy is a very broad term – it could include walking and running. When does entertainment become therapy?”

What James goes on to describe is indeed more like a musical conversation rather than a performance; he judges the reactions of the audience members and then responds accordingly. Like all good conversations, the interaction can take unpredictable twists and turns. “Sometimes I’ll stop if someone shouts something out. I’ll go over to them and they’ll be talking about a memory or they might start singing. Every session is quite different and the lovely thing is that it can end completely differently from how I thought it would.”

James is expanding his work with groups in nursing homes to embrace one-to-one sessions, bringing with it new possibilities. “When I’m doing a one-to-one session I can focus on tunes and songs that are particularly pertinent for that person. I was working with someone in his 30s with brain damage and I thought he’d recognise the classic 60’s tunes. I was doing those and popped in a couple of instrumental tunes – mood music – to see his reaction.

He couldn’t move much, his only recognition was in eye-blinking, but he connected. He was trying to turn his head towards me, his breathing changed, suddenly there was a leg movement, a big kick – excitement!” I can tell the excitement was as much for James as for this young man, and it explains a lot about why he started Music and Memories.

James has a musical background (he trained as a music teacher originally) but it was a forced career change that encouraged him to tap into a gift and a passion for making people happy through music.

“I’d been frustrated that I wasn’t making more of my music. When I was invited into that first care home I didn’t have much of a plan, I played and sang a few songs. I then approached other homes, gained confidence and started experimenting. I’d change the mood, put new words to well known songs…” 

It’s clear that James is still innovating, ever-sensitive to the particular needs of the group or the individual – in that place, at that time.

“The other day I stopped and read out the words of a song because they were so lovely. Everyone listened intently – the power of words as well as music. My growing experience of dementia and associated cognitive behaviour means I’m getting increasingly connected with people but it’s always unexpected.”

For someone so obviously creative and un-phased by spontaneity, I’m slightly surprised by the down to earth nature of the advice that James has for anyone thinking of starting a social enterprise.

“Unless you have a real desire and passion, don’t do it. Social enterprise is not a route to making money, so the desire to make a difference has to be genuine. But passion is not enough. You should learn as much as you possibly can about the subject, but don’t feel you have to do it all at once. It can’t all happen overnight, so have realistic expectations.”     

To find out more about Music and Memories, contact James at jwhogg52@gmail.com

James is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

For more profiles in the ‘Experts by Experience’ series, go to http://bit.ly/1hQ4CCo

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