How Celtic Music is increasing the wellbeing of people in the Wirral
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 June 2015 | UPDATED: 22:41 23 October 2015
An innovative project on the Wirral is using Celtic music to help people get back on their feet. Words by Paul Mackenzie
It’s therapy with all the whistles and bells. Not to mention the ukuleles, accordions, harps and bouzoukis. A project launched on the Wirral a couple of years ago aims to combat the potentially devastating effects of loneliness, isolation and depression through music.
It was launched by classically trained pianist and music teacher Lesley-Ann Wood after the birth of her daughter, who is now three. ‘I worked for the Local Education Authority in Wrexham for 15 years but after my daughter was born I wanted something closer to home,’ said Lesley-Ann, who also has a 16-year-old son. ‘I know the benefits of music. I have seen at first hand how it can change a person’s mindset.
‘My aim was to help to give people a community and a sense of purpose and to help to retrain or to allow them to sharpen existing skills resulting in a sense of achievement and renewed confidence. This we did by putting on a series of music workshops where we would introduce and teach our members different Celtic instruments. I spoke to GPs and care providers and people suffering isolation, depression and loneliness were referred to me. Initially I offered a ten week course and I saw people transform before my eyes.
‘I think when the people first came they was a lot of scepticism, but to walk through the door into the unknown there must have been a certain desperation. There was one person I remember particularly on the first day who had high blood pressure and vertigo and was sweating and shaking and was obviously very uncomfortable but very quickly he started to relax and his fear dissipated.
‘They are doing things they have never experienced but they are not daunted with theory or having to read the notes. The instruments are all easy to pick up – with the ukulele you only need to move one finger and you can play two chords – and as their confidence grows I ask them to go on YouTube and find things that will help them develop further. We are giving people skills, motivating them and putting them back in a position for employment.’
Lesley-Ann, who lives in Eastham, trained at the Royal Academy as a teenager and she added: ‘I have Irish and Scottish roots and I wanted to raise the awareness of Celtic music and to bring the community together to learn about the cultural heritage and importance of folk music. Folk is often the basis of music – many of the beginning tunes we teach children are folk tunes, no matter what instrument they’re learning.
‘I encourage the group to talk about their own heritage. The music provokes memories and encourages conversation between generations. Folk is an oral tradition, it’s how people have passed on stories for many, many years. In the group I try to add a sense of fun and artistic excellence.
‘It’s very socially inclusive, no matter what disabilities people have, there’s always a part of the tune they can do. People make friends, their confidence grows – the transformation can be staggering.’
It certainly has been for that first group. A year on, they are still performing together as The Rooters and will be staging a ceilidh at this month’s Thornton Hough Music Festival. They are also booked to perform at the Poulton Hall Garden Party in July.
The Rooters meet once a week at the project’s base in the Thornton Hough Village Club but Lesley-Ann said: ‘It’s the perfect little home for us at the moment but in time I think we will outgrow it. I have to continue doing what I am doing in order to get us a home we can really call home. Ultimately my aim is for a North West centre of Celtic performing arts.’
The project has received some funding through the NHS and caught the eye of an amateur musician who could see the potential of the scheme.
‘He has given us money because he is really keen for the project to reach children in schools in deprived areas of the Wirral,’ Lesley-Ann said. ‘He was left an inheritance and three schools will get a term of free Celtic music workshops. At the end of that time the five children who show the most aptitude, enthusiasm and potential will get a year of free weekly music lessons with instruments and transport costs covered.’
In order to reach her goal of a regional centre of excellence though, Lesley-Ann wants to attract more funding. ‘What we are doing is making a real difference to peoples lives and no-one else is really doing anything quite the way we do it. Hopefully we will be able to capture the imagination of someone who can invest or who can attract a big funder with a passion for the arts.’
* To find out more about the Celtic Roots scheme, go to celticrootsmusic.co.uk.