How We Got Started at UNCSA

How We Got Started at UNCSA

Music Between Us grew out of Dr. Allison Gagnon’s own experiences in supporting her parents in their last years when they were living with dementia. Having had a musical upbringing, her instinct was to connect with them through music, especially after words failed. As time went on, she learned of research in the use of music to connect with those living with dementia. At the same time, she was astonished by the unattractive institutional soundscape of care facilities and the dearth of resources for social and musical interaction.

She began to imagine that music students could provide “boots on the ground” to both enliven the day-to-day of participants and ease the load of those caring for them. After discussing possibilities with her colleague Rebecca Nussbaum at the UNCSA ArtistCorps program, she applied for and was awarded a semester of reassigned time to do further research and to mentor a team within ArtistCorps.

Together she and Rebecca set up a pilot project to provide interactive musicmaking in dementia care, involving participants at the Williams Adult Day Center, part of Senior Services of Winston-Salem. The pilot, called Morning Music Club by partners at the Day Center, was launched in September 2019 with a team of two music students, one music alumna, and a film student to document the program. Early in 2020, just after a parallel project for “lower-functioning” participants had been started, the program was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The team spent the rest of the semester consolidating the materials they had developed and reflecting on their experiences thus far.

In-person sessions were not possible for the 2020-21 academic year. Instead, the new team of six met each week on-line, developing a set of pre-recorded video programs whose design paralleled the live sessions. These were shared through Williams Adult Day Center with participants and their caregivers at home, and later at the Day Center when participants returned but volunteers were not yet allowed into the facility.

In 2021-22 the project became Music Between Us with the team resuming sessions in a hybrid format, with two members in person and two members online via Zoom.  A total of seven team members were in rotation over three days each week. While pandemic protocols required limits on spacing and capacity, it was great to be with participants again!

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The Music Between Us Program Guide was supported in part by a grant from the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts.