Why did you set up the Over the Hill Music Collective?
I started work at the Oh Yeah Music Centre about 6 years ago as a facilitator. I was also a musician and a songwriter.
Through the process of carrying out my work for the Oh Yeah Music Centre, I found that there were plenty of opportunities for young musicians and groups to access support, but the cut-off point for that support was, in some cases, 18 years old, in others, 24 years old. There was always a cut-off point which excluded older musicians. Unless you had reached a certain stature in your career, and there are very few people who manage to do that, older musicians had very limited opportunities to access support. They have very limited opportunities to break into the industry and there are very few opportunities to sustain any kind of career.
I started the Over the Hill Music Collective because I couldn’t see anyone else organising to support older musicians.”
Why a collective?
I had worked with an Irish NGO in Honduras, in a village called El Triunfo and I met a fantastic collective of women who worked growing and selling cashew nuts. They started with nothing, a pittance, and they created a very impressive enterprise through their orientation as a collective.
That experience inspired me, so when I came to set up OTHMC that was the model I was looking at for guidance.”
What were the aims of OTHMC?
The initial orientation was to set up a space where people could come and meet up regularly, primarily for older musicians but not exclusively so. The initial slogan was “Sing Something, Play Something, Say Something”. We decided to host the meetings at the Oh Yeah Music Centre because it was central and accessible.
We received some seed funding from UnLtd, which allowed the purchase of some basic recording equipment, a laptop, some software, and if anyone came along to the meetings they could make some recordings of songs they had been working on.
The second element of our ethos was to provide mentoring for people, so we always had speakers at our meetings who might discuss aspects of the music industry, or provide information or speakers who would offer guidance on techniques for writing songs or composing music.
Finally we wanted to establish the potential for collaborative working. Musicians would be able to meet other musicians; songwriters could meet singers or musicians; whatever your starting point there would be opportunities to create music with other people.
And we always want to encourage people to take that extra step. We don’t want the collective or the people who attend the meetings just to tread water. We want to encourage and facilitate everyone’s development.”
Has this approach been successful?
Over the last 4 years we have had members of the collective record and release albums; with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the collective recorded and produced its own album, The Velvet Revolution, and we are now just in the process of finishing a second album.
For the second album we have set up an Over the Hill Music Collective house band which provides the music for each track, giving the work that the collective produces a sense of continuity.
I, along with other members of the collective, again with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, produced a musical working alongside Kabosh Theatre Company which was performed at the Ulster Hall.
We have played gigs at Culture Night, at The Strand Theatre, and smaller gigs at other places.
While all of that work is essential and the collective has been incredibly successful not only maintaining itself, but growing way beyond what we thought was possible initially, one of the key areas of work the collective has initiated is work with people experiencing Dementia.”
Tell us more about that.
We decided that the collective would carry out work in care homes or day centres.
I had done some research on the benefits of musical experiences for people experiencing dementia. It’s my view, but there is plenty of research which shows that this view is widely held, that people with Dementia, and particularly with later stage Dementia, benefit from being exposed to musical experiences. Not simply listening to music but being part of a collective experience of seeing a musical show or trying to create their own music. They become less isolated, more willing to talk and converse, more open socially. They become less agitated, friendlier, we’ve seen people at our events, hold each other’s hands, dance together, discuss the show with other people, become more sociable generally.
Community arts Partnership had influenced our approach to some degree in that CAP has an orientation summed up by the slogan, “Access, Participation, Authorship and Ownership”. With this approach, It isn’t enough just to participate although in some cases that can be a step forward. That idea of increasing access and participation guided OTHMC to work in areas where there was very little provision on offer with regards either having musical experiences or being able to participate in making your own music.
We did music workshops, which lead to organising gigs in care homes with a full band, a lightshow and proper sound. We purchased instruments so people could join in with the Collective’s musicians.
We, went further, aiming to help people write their own music or songs; we have recording equipment, IPads with Garageband for example, where people can record whatever they create.
We have also provided MP3 players with playlists for people in the homes to listen to.
So we are increasing access and participation, and we want people to create their own material and where possible we want to facilitate people being creatively engaged despite the difficulties Dementia puts in front of them.”
So where to now?
We have no paid staff, we have a small board and by and large the decisions of the Collective are made by the Collective’s membership which is crucial. We have very little in the way of finances so there is some work to be done there.
We have recently been supported financially by LIDL, the supermarket chain, and that has been very beneficial for the Collective. Without that support from LIDL’s Community Works Grant we couldn’t have recorded the second album. LIDL has also supported us with an impressive social media campaign as well, which has also been invaluable.
We also want to do some policy work, in areas of support for people experiencing dementia and regarding support and opportunities for older musicians.
Most importantly we won’t lose sight of what we set out to do in the first place.
We provide a space for older people to meet, to share experiences and to form bonds over time. Music is the catalyst for that but many people who come to our meetings have all sorts of personal experiences which require support and we have, almost inadvertently, provided that support as well as providing a space where they can learn to be creative.
The mentoring and provision of information will continue and the house band, I’m sure, will be playing gigs through its own merits soon enough.
It’s through that strong collective platform that we branch out into carrying out our other projects.”
And the new album will be available soon?
Our second album will be out soon, there are 11 artists on the album, there is a vast eclectic range of material because we gave the artists total freedom to interpret a particular theme for the album, and then the OTHMC house band worked with them to get the best out of each piece of material.
Producing this album has been an exciting development and so we hope to promote the Collective through promoting the work on the album.”