SongTrees Community Programme




SongTrees YAMA Project: visit

and click here to see the recent celebratory YAMA launch concert:


Talented young musicians from the Primary, Junior and Senior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music are collaborating with like-minded musical leaders from partner cohorts. The young musical leaders are being mentored by Nigel Osborne, Julian West, Chika Robertson and leading professionals from Sir Yehudi Menuhin’s  ‘Live Music Now’ to bring a fascinating programme of live and bespoke recorded music, made possible by X-System’s cutting-edge technology, into care homes. The talented musicians are also working with Character Scotland and Health Education Wessex (through the Royal Society of Public Health’s ‘Making Every Contact Count’ programme) to develop new verbal and nonverbal communication skills and to raise awareness of the significant impact that music and the arts can make upon health and wellbeing. Intergenerational, cross-cultural social research is being headed by Dr Lyudmila Nurse, Faculty of Education, University of Oxford.

An exciting new Transatlantic Dialogue is being developed between SongTrees YAMA from the UK and our new lead international YAMA cohort, based on the West Coast of the USA at Holy Names Music Centre, in partnership with Spokane Public Libraries. Their collaborative work on non-verbal musical communication will be presented at the Transatlantic Dialogue Conference in Luxembourg in May 2020.

Through exploring people’s deep musical memories, research gleaned is being used as a communicative tool globally. The production of culture specific films and recordings, both written and oral, will benefit the inherent medical, educational, musical and social strands of this Project.

SongTrees is currently seeking sponsorship to maintain a high profile through creating innovative intergenerational national and international performance and workshop opportunities, and developing an enriched website to explore musical leadership, cross-curricular and cultural awareness.

Through populating an attractive, fun website with music downloads, partner organisations in this country and abroad will be able to transcend culture and nationality. This interactive learning tool is being developed with sponsors alongside educational, musical, technological, intergenerational social and medical experts.

Strongly established since 2004 through its initial seed funding as a national DfES ‘Building Bridges’ project, SongTrees has continued to be driven successfully by its unique tried-and-tested methodology. A greater awareness of self and community is promoted for all participants through an enlightening fusion of music and science.

The SongTrees methodology has been used successfully in the UK, Europe and USA and works in close partnership with leading musicians, medics, sociologists, scientists and artists to bridge diverse communities together through musical memory to enhance learning, family music-making, leadership skills and cultural identity, promoting healthy lifestyle principles to the young.

Young and talented musicians from the BAME charity, Kuumba Youth Music, along with young professional musicians acting as mentors, met with leading experts in Musical Leadership at a ‘Creative Away Day’and ‘Residential Weekend’ at the SongTrees Academy & Rural Retreat, in association with Kuumba Youth Music, the Royal Academy of Music and Youth Music. SongTrees’ courses explore how Musical Leadership can widen future career paths, particularly into Music and Health.

In 2012 SongTrees promoted musical opportunities for all ages through its educational Young Musical and Cultural Leadership Programme, based upon its inspirational Cultural Olympiad Project, Legends in Action. It was awarded the prestigious Inspire mark, which recognised innovative and exceptional projects that were directly inspired by the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

(Below) SongTrees performed two concerts conducted by David Knotts at an exciting large-scale event which marked the arrival of the Final 2012 Olympic Torch Relay in Guildford, Surrey:

SongTrees was an NHS South East Regional Finalist for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Awards and a Case Study Project for ‘Every Contribution Matters’, the VCS Contribution to the Enjoy and Achieve Outcome for the Children and Young People’s Plan.

Supporters have included the Big Lottery, Chances 4 Change, Department for Education and Skills, European Cultural Parliament and The Wates Foundation.

SongTrees has worked closely with eminent partners including The Royal Academy of Music, Primary, Junior and Senior Academy; Cranleigh School; Kuumba, Oxford XXI, Youth Music and the NGS (National Gardens Scheme), for whom SongTrees promotes charity concerts in its fully refurbished 16th-century concert facilities and landscaped gardens:

SongTrees’ Branch Projects:

‘Sound Bites’ and ‘ENRI-East’

The tried-and-tested innovative SongTrees methodology was used by the following Projects:

Sound Bites: Health and Wellbeing through Musical Memories
(for further info, please see below)

Sound Bites’ sociological research is headed by Oxford XXI Director Dr Lyudmila Nurse and medical research by Prof Paul Grob. Funded by the Big Lottery’s ‘Chances4Change’ programme, the Coordinator was Mary Shek.

ENRI-East: Cultural Identity through Musical Memories

In association with Oxford XXI as a component of the ENRI-East Project:
Interplay of European, National and Regional Identities: nations between states along the new eastern borders of the European Union;
Funded by the European Commission FP7- SSH-2007-1-5.2.1: Histories and Identities-articulating national and European Identities- Project No 217227.

(for further info, please see below)

To see details about the initial SongTrees launch and development, please see the video above or click on SongTrees’ website



Sound BitesProject
Improving health and wellbeing for people in South East England

Communication channels were 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 was sent to children’s trusts across the country.

Exciting intergenerational and cross-cultural events featuring songs, dances and healthy ethnic foods are 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 delivered to help alleviate psychosocial stress and obesity.

Schools, families and communities in Surrey and West Sussex, including those in which health and social inequalities are prevalent, benefitted by having access to ‘well-being education’ through exciting artistic activities. Health professionals raised 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 engaged in rehearsals and concerts of the shared songs, as well as of Willcocks’ exciting ‘healthy living’ composition, ‘Good for You!’. They worked 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 was the pilot school for this exciting project. The performance work was shaped and brought to life through Shakespearean expert Valerie Doulton and her Live Literature Company. Children explored Sonnets and wrote their own ‘food sonnets’ and rhyming couplets. They even composed 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’, used 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 (

The 3G SongTrees approach was also 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 ( For further details, see under ‘Projects/SongTrees’.

Below: Jonathan Willcocks’ fun-filled ‘healthy living’ songs went down a treat in the ‘Celebrating Surrey 2010 Festival:

SongTrees' performers John and Celia Savage
Above: SongTrees’ performers Councillors John and Celia Savage

Additional SongTrees Project Information:

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: [email protected]
Tel: 01403 824034

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.

London 2012 Games

ENRI-East Project

What is the aim of ENRI-East?

The ‘ENRI-East’ project aims to provide a deeper understanding of the ways in which modern European identities and cultures are formed and inter-communicated in the Eastern part of the European continent.

‘Cultural Identity and Music’ is a pilot study in the ENRI-East project

What is the role of ‘Cultural Identity and Music’ in this project?

The pilot study will analyse what determines the relationship between music and
cultural identity. The hypothesis is that, historically, certain folk- inspired classical and traditional music have strong nationalist associations. On the other hand, other musical styles were regarded as international or ‘alien’ and much ‘commercial’
rock and popular music is perceived as more international / global. Research will analyse the determining factors of nationalist / international expression through musical forms, their inter-generational evolution, and provide input to the development of EU cultural and educational policy.

This study is innovative, designed to explore cross— generational and cross- cultural links between music and national, ethnic, regional and European identities. It aims to link types of music and these different levels of identity.

Will there be a music / singing event?

A special musical event will be planned in several localities, coordinated with the local ministries of culture, specialist music schools and representatives of the local professional or amateur music groups/orchestras, to which all the interviewed families and local population will be invited. Depending on the locality, musical groups will perform a concert, including songs shared by the communities.

Which regions are involved?

In geographical terms the project shall be limited to the
following regions:

The Baltic Region: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Eastern Europe: Poland, Belarus, Ukraine
Central Europe: Germany
The Carpathian Basin: Western Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary

How will the data analysis & focus groups work?

Collected data will be analysed by Oxford XXI and Music Mind Spirit Trust specialists. Data from quantitative and qualitative surveys will be consolidated for further analysis. Links with other European surveys may be also considered. On the
basis of the analysis of the results of the 3G music questionnaire, focus group discussions will be conducted with three generations by the local music school students concerning the link between favourite music and people’s identities. Focus groups will be led by trained students of local Conservatoires.

Are the aims practical or theoretical?

The aims are theoretical, in that conventional concepts and approaches are tested. They are also practical, since a major deliverable will consist of policy recommendations and suggestions. The project is methodologically innovative, in that an appropriate tool kit will be developed.

How will policy recommendations and dissemination be developed?

Results of the analysis will be presented in discussion, with analytical papers and
project reports. Policy recommendations will be provided to the local education, culture authorities, NGO’s, and presentation of the results will be at the European Cultural Parliament, Council of Europe, and mass media.

What is the next step?

A presentation will be made to the European Cultural Parliament, Council of Europe, European Youth Foundation, European NGOs European media. Additional funding is required to stage music/singing events in participating and non-participating countries of Eastern Europe. This will contribute to furthering the educational/cultural impact of the project.

How can I find out more?

For more information, please contact Dr. Lyudmila Nurse, Team Leader, or Professor Paul Robertson, Member of the European Cultural Parliament and the Project Advisory Board. You can do this by emailing: [email protected] or by calling +44-1844-21 88 36.

Who are partnering Oxford XXI?

Music Mind Spirit is a Charitable Trust dedicated to the betterment of humanity and the fostering of cultural and social citizenship within medicine, education and business through the better use and appreciation of music and the arts.

The SongTrees project was developed by Dr Chika Robertson as a Music Mind Spirit Trust project aimed to help children gain insight into their cultural identity through sharing musical memories with their parents, grandparents and friends. It created a
valuable archive for musical /medical research. It set out to discover what kinds of music people from different generations remember and what associations it has.

Professor Robertson, founding director of the Music Mind Spirit Trust, writes: ‘We can now begin to appreciate how musical forms and structures precisely mirror the underlying neurological forms and physiological structures that create them…. By mapping the structures of the Musical brain we are revealing the maps of both Personal Identity and the Implicit Laws of Social Relationship.’

Oxford XXI

The Old Coach House
Southern Road, Thame,
Oxfordshire OX9 2ED
Tel: +44 (0)1844 21 88 36
Email: [email protected]

in association with Music Mind Spirit Trust

a component of ENRI-East Interplay of European, National and Regional Identities: nations between states along the new eastern borders of the European Union

FP7- SSH-2007-1-5.2.1: Histories and Identities-articulating national and European Identities- Project No 217227

The SongTrees Young Artist Musical Ambassadors (YAMA) Programme is grateful for support using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and National Lottery Community Fund.