Intern on the inside: Turtle Song

Thursday 6 December 2012


The Autumn 2012 tour has finished. We have been to London, Cambridge, Exeter, Tunbridge Wells, Harrogate, Bath, Snape Maltings, Malvern and Buxton. Phew. Back in London preparations for our Spring 13 shows are well underway (I won’t give too much away yet!) but in the education department we are very much in workshop mode with Turtle Song, a project run for dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The programme has two weekly sessions, one run by the Royal College of Music, and the other in Dulwich Picture Gallery. For the last few weeks I have been to Dulwich to find out exactly what is going on.

The sessions are run by Tim Yealland who heads our Education department along with composer Rachel Leach, staff from Dulwich Picture Gallery, students from the RCM and a few boys from Dulwich College.

The concept of the project is to bring dementia sufferers together to exercise their minds and voices in a fun and sociable environment. This is all done by fusing art and music – interpreting paintings and responding to them by composing songs.

As with all good creative processes, the afternoon starts with tea, biscuits and a bit of chit-chat, but pretty soon the whole group relocates into the gallery where a member of staff talks about one of the paintings. The artist, subject and history is discussed, but most importantly, they bring out the story behind the images; scandal, beauty, illicit romance and decadence seem to be recurring features!

The group then go straight into a warm-up and start composing. First comes the lyrics. Tim and his team have some pretty innovative methods of getting ideas out of everybody, ranging from an enormous game of consequences, to haiku, to role play. Then Rachel leads the group in creating a melody for these words. By this stage the room is so friendly that participants have the confidence to sing out tunes while Rachel jams around on the piano.

Under all this noise, laugher, and more than a little bit of eccentricity, the ideas come together to form a song. Each week they have a new painting and a new song. Already they have produced music that is full of charm, sadness, irony and a smattering of cheekiness.

These afternoons of art, games and song are so much more than a sociable activity for our dementia sufferers. It is a touching example of how music and art can bring solace.

The sessions run weekly for 10 weeks with a final performance in Dulwich College in the middle of December.

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