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"Sound Bites" Project
Improving health and wellbeing for people in South East England

Communication channels are being opened across the generations through the exciting SongTrees' branch, 'Sound Bites' – an innovative arts and health programme designed by The Music Mind Spirit Trust.


>> Mental Health and Wellbeing Award Finalist for the Best of Health 2010 South East Regional Health and Social Care Awards, UK's flagship awards endorsed by the Department of Health.

>> Case Study Project for the Big Lottery Fund's Chances4Change Programme, supported by NHS South East Coast (to view case study, please see below).

>> Case Study Project for 'Every Contribution Matters', the VCS Contribution to the Enjoy and Achieve Outcome for the Children and Young People's Plan, funded through Children England, in partnership with RAISE. This publication is being sent to children's trusts across the country.

Exciting intergenerational and cross-cultural events featuring songs, dances and healthy ethnic foods are being shared, as young people learn about their cultural roots through interviewing their older family members and friends. Song, dance and exercise, even sedentary exercise for the elderly, are being delivered to help alleviate psychosocial stress and obesity.

Schools, families and communities in Surrey, West Sussex, Southampton and Buckinghamshire, including those in which health and social inequalities are prevalent, are benefiting by having access to 'well-being education' through exciting artistic activities. Health professionals are raising awareness of how a good diet – along with physical and creative activities such as singing and dancing – work together to enhance our health and well-being at all ages.

The eminent composer, Jonathan Willcocks, was commissioned to combine 3 generations in song, recalling favourite food, dance and musical memories, as gleaned from the questionnaires. Community centres and schools are able to engage in rehearsals and concerts of the shared songs, as well as of Willcocks' exciting 'healthy living' composition, entitled 'Good for You!'. They will work with leading musicians from Yehudi Menuhin's national training programme, 'Live Music Now', as well as with professional musicians & dancers from within their communities.

Cranleigh School is the pilot school for this exciting project. The performance work can be shaped and brought to life through Shakespearean expert Valerie Doulton and her Live Literature Company. Children can explore Sonnets and write their own 'food sonnets' and rhyming couplets. They can even compose their own pop songs inspired by the sonnets, under the guidance of Eastenders' composer/songwriter, Simon May.

The National Music Manifesto vocal programme, 'Sing Up', uses original songs specially written for Sound Bites by Lin Marsh and Jonathan Willcocks, to promote singing in schools across the nation.
Through SongTrees, the Music Mind Spirit Trust will continue to create its valuable musical/medical/social archive. This research will be utilised to promote well-being amongst children and their families, as well as to benefit those suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

SongTrees is involved in ground-breaking research into intergenerational music and identity in collaboration with Oxford XXI Director, Dr Lyudmila Nurse (www.oxford-xxi.org). 

The 3G SongTrees approach is also being utilised to link musical memories and lifestyles with ethnic and national identities along the new eastern borders of the EU with the exciting ERNI-East Project (www.enri-east.net). For further details, see under 'Projects/SongTrees'.

Congratulations are to be extended to all performers for their enthusiastic singing of Jonathan Willcocks' fun-filled 'healthy living' songs (which went down a treat!) in the 'Celebrating Surrey 2010 Festival'.

Dr. Chika Robertson, Project Director

October 2010

SongTrees' performers John and Celia Savage

What is chances4change?
The chances4change programme consists of 62 projects located in some of the most socially, financially and geographically needy areas of the region. The projects are funded by the Big Lottery Fund which is providing £5.6 million over 4 years to help address health inequalities in the region. They are community driven & focus on three strands of activity - improving mental health, encouraging physical activity & healthy eating.

Wellbeing South East Case Studies Sharing Practice:
Sound Bites

Project summary

Sound Bites is an innovative arts and health programme aimed at improving physical and mental well-being, building bridges between generations and increasing community cohesion through song, dance and healthy eating.

>> to use song, dance and healthy eating to promote better physical and mental well-being, build bridges between generations and increase community cohesion.

>> to teach young people about their cultural roots, through songs and recipes.

>> to provide high quality well-being education through exciting artistic activities in schools, families and communities in Surrey and West Sussex, including those in which health and social inequalities are prevalent.

>> to investigate the effectiveness of music in rekindling memories among Alzheimer's sufferers.

>> to raise awareness of how a good diet – along with physical and creative activities such as singing and dancing – can work together to enhance health and well-being for all ages.

Aims and objectives

Target group
The project links Cranleigh, a private preparatory school in Surrey, with state primary schools in Farnham, Guildford, Godalming and Dorking, areas which had been identified as containing significant pockets of deprivation. The project also works with two special needs schools. From January 2010, two further hubs, each linking private and state schools in Southampton and Buckinghamshire were launched.

Sound Bites is intergenerational, working with toddlers, 7-13 year olds and families, including some people who are in their 80s.

Delivery partners
Sound Bites is being delivered by The Music Mind Spirit Trust, a charity that works with musicians, medics and scientists to research the benefits of music. The Trust is working in partnership with local education authorities in Surrey and West Sussex and Cranleigh School. The evaluation partner for the project is research network, Oxford XXI.

Funding and support
The project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund's Well-being programme as part of 'chances4change' – a £5.6m portfolio of healthy living projects across the South East.

From writing Shakespearean sonnets about chips to learning grandma's favourite hits, Sound Bites is linking in health and well-being with music in a fun and original way for people of all ages.

The project has a serious side too, providing ground-breaking research into the benefits of music for Alzheimer's sufferers and new and exciting learning opportunities for socially excluded children.

Sound Bites builds on earlier work by main project partner, The Music Mind Spirit Trust, to use music as a bridge between people.

"The project is informed by the idea that music creates links – between the generations, between people of different social backgrounds, with our own pasts and with our cultural heritage – that can improve mental well-being and increase community cohesion," said project director Chika Robertson.

"What is new to Sound Bites is a particular emphasis on healthy living. Children can learn to live healthy lifestyles through song or discover their cultural heritage through dances and recipes. We aim to show that physical health and emotional well-being are an important part of learning about music and other people's musical experiences."

The project has been partly driven by the Department for Children, Schools and Families 'Building Bridges' initiative1 for linking private and state schools to bridge the social gap and encourage a rich mix of people to take part. Sound Bites is also hoping to link the generations using musical surveys to find out about past musical tastes.

"Finding out the musical preferences of earlier generations has many other benefits," said Chika. "It can create dialogue within families, where it had perhaps been missing before. It can also help to preserve a musical heritage, particularly within minority ethnic communities, that would otherwise be lost. By learning to perform these songs back to their parents and grandparents at community events, children are gaining empowerment, confidence and self-esteem, literally breathing new life into old classics."

Studies have been made about the therapeutic value of music.2 The idea of using a survey to elicit people's earliest musical memories is partly aimed at bring out the positive emotions associated with them: of being secure, comforted and happy.

"This is valuable in itself but also has implications for the care of Alzheimer's sufferers," said Chika. "One of the our key aims is to investigate, with the help of our evaluation partners, the effectiveness of music in rekindling memories in people with this terribly debilitating illness."

How it works
With Sound Bites, children are the researchers. Using an on-line questionnaire developed by the project, they interview their parents and grandparents about favourite songs, dances and food from their childhood.

In Sound Bites clubs in each school, they then work with specially trained facilitators who are all local musicians to learn to sing their parents' and grandparents' musical choices. The favourite foods are prepared, again with the help of facilitators, and adapted to give a healthier twist on a traditional recipe, by reducing the fat or salt content or adding healthier ingredients. The musical information is collated on-line to form part of a musical database, which among other things, will be used in the Trust's research into Alzheimer's.

Children, who may come from a specific year group or from throughout the school, then have the chance to perform the songs and dances they have learned in a variety of different settings. About three times a term, they may go into local care homes for the elderly and meet and sing for residents, an experience which informs classroom discussions.

The Trust's headquarters at Shelley's Barn on the Surrey/Sussex borders is the venue for training sessions and focus groups to probe family musical choices further. Meanwhile, a larger event, at a local theatre, has brought communities together through music and other common themes. Each school presented its own song on a healthy eating theme, written with composer Simon May. The project has also benefited from the involvement of another renowned composer, Jonathan Willcocks, who wrote six specially commissioned songs on the theme of healthy living for the children to perform.

The project has links to a number of external initiatives. Sound Bites participants have been taking part in Sing Up, the national singing programme for schools3, and it is hoped that the project will be named as part of the Cultural Olympiad in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The project is led by a director, who has been working directly with specially trained
facilitators, recruited through LEA music services and other musical networks, such as Live Music Now! As the project proceeds, more and more mothers and fathers are also being trained to lead sessions.

All the partner schools have been hugely supportive. In state and private schools, children and teachers have come together across both sectors with music as the common denominator.

Taking part has brought out a real enthusiasm among children for songs and music with even the folk songs of older generations being well received.

200 children from all of the participating schools took part in a 'sell-out' concert at Leatherhead Theatre in November 2009. Each school presented its own song on a healthy eating theme.

Renowned contemporary composers Simon May and Jonathan Willcocks have contributed specially commissioned works, greatly adding to the quality of the educational programme.

On the back of its success, the project has been asked to bid for a third year's funding to allow a training and delivery pack to be developed for schools around the country. It is also about to expand into Buckinghamshire and Southampton and has secured European FP7 funding to take the project model into communities in Hungary and Lithuania.

Looking Forward
Sound Bites has a number of plans to ensure that its work continues beyond the three-year funding period.

The project is currently developing a training programme to roll out nationally which would expand the intergenerational work with music into a number of cross-curricular areas – for example, showing how music links with local history and social responsibility. As part of this package, specially made recordings could be available to schools.

With income from the training programme and from a major fundraising drive that is currently under way, the project hopes to offer singing and other music lessons in schools where current music provision is scarce. In the meantime, Sound Bites is also documenting its work to influence the policy makers who make decisions on educational funding.

The project is passionate about demonstrating its scientific rigour and is working closely with assessment partners, Oxford XXI. Evaluation is primarily through feedback forms which elicit participants' responses to the activities, for example by asking what they had learned about healthy eating or whether they felt that their emotional well-being had improved. Regular focus groups have allowed more detailed analysis of families' musical preferences.

Challenges and learning points
High academic staff turnover has been an issue in some schools. It means that programmes set up with one member of staff may have to be rearranged later with another. Although there has been a lot of support for the project in the communities, people can be wary of new things, particularly in the cultural arena. Some families were hesitant to come to the concert at Leatherhead Theatre. So they were offered free tickets and coach transport to and from the schools. In the end, there was a full house and the event was a great success.

Collaborating with the right people is essential. The project has developed a strong team of volunteer workers and advisors, including some high-powered people. It has given Sound Bites a very strong position to take it to the next level.

Feedback and quotes
The project has had a lot of positive feedback. Event evaluation has been overwhelmingly positive, with people reporting that they feel better physically, are more mentally stimulated and have learned something about healthy eating. The children have loved meeting other schools and singing in large choirs. One girl has been so inspired by the experience that she asked for a music stand for her only birthday present. In other cases, children who never – or rarely – speak, will sing. Sound Bites has given them the confidence to use their own voices.

It has helped them to understand their heritage, which has meant that the older generation feels more valued too. The project has had a lot of feedback from the families that children are sharing more with them in ways that they never would have before.

"I think the project has been hugely beneficial. It has broadened their horizons and it's been good for them to experience different approaches to learning."

"I'd like to see it on a much larger scale. It's very important because it shows the children how their music has got to where it is now."

Contact Details
Dr Chika Robertson, Project Director
The Music Mind Spirit Trust
C/o Shelley's Barn, West Sussex
Email: info@musicmindspirit.org
Tel: 01403 824034
Web: www.musicmindspirit.org/

Case study
A part-time music teacher at Pilgrim's Way Primary School in Farnham, Caroline Maxwell-
Gale has been involved in the Sound Bites project from the outset. She has rehearsed with children in years 5 and 6 who took part in the two concerts to date as well as helping to run a variety of musical workshops.

"The school's in a deprived area so it's the kind of community the project wants to reach out to," she said.

"The first concert we took part in at Cranleigh School on the theme of healthy living and healthy eating. It featured specially commissioned music by Jonathan Willcocks, which we learned together in school. Then a Shakespearean expert visited the school who ran a two workshops linking Shakespeare and food after which the children wrote their own sonnets.

They filled in questionnaires on the music of the older generation and, stimulated by that, we played and sang some of the old songs at a care home. For the second concert, the children worked with Simon May, who wrote the theme to Eastenders, to compose a pop song which they performed at Leatherhead Theatre. Five schools were taking part so there was great excitement.

I think the project has been hugely beneficial. It has broadened their horizons and it's been good for them to experience different approaches to learning. The children have got together with other schools before. But going to a school like Cranleigh was a new experience for them and they've never worked with a real composer before. It's great that somebody successful has shown such an interest.

I'd like to see it on a much larger scale. It's very important because it shows the children how their music has got to where it is now."


Sixsmith, A. and Grant, G., 2007. Music and the well-being of people with dementia. Ageing and Society, 27(1), 127-145.


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