Music as a form of communication and healing

Music as a form of communication and healing

Guest Author: Anu Koechli

As human beings one of the most fascinating elements of our species is our creative capabilities with the creation and development of music over tens of thousands of years. Recent technological developments over the last few decades have allowed for scientific discoveries showing how sound frequencies are proven to promote healing both physically and mentally through using instruments or bio-resonance devices. Below we will explore a small collection of ancient instruments from various cultures with a focus on Gamelan, my experience of attending Gamelan sessions with Good Vibrations and some information on the connection between sound frequencies and the Universe itself.

Instruments, the universe & history

Our planet exists in a sound and communication orientated universe. Our ancient civilisations knew about this and respected it so which is why one of the main constants we have throughout history is the evolution of music along with the evolution of humans since our very ancient ancestors first figured out how to use animal hide stretched over carved tree trunks to create drums.

Drumming circles are believed to be one of the first musical instruments used in early tribal culture in early Gondwanaland – the first large continent of the earth before tectonic plate movements that split land into different pieces, but we can trace the early developments of drums to what is now Africa. Drumming combined with singing and chanting brought humans together in celebration or ceremony. Over tens of thousands of years humans have developed a vast spectrum of instruments to create sound, to play with different sounds and create music that enabled us to explore not only the exterior physical dimension we live in and how it works but also allowed us to explore deep within ourselves what we are capable of creating and how we communicate with each other.

(Source: Djembe Art, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18082929)

When you start to explore the rich variety of musical instruments around the world in different cultures and tribes it becomes intriguing how our ancestors must have gone through a lot of trial and error to figure out how to carve and build some of the most beautiful instruments out there.

Australian Aborigines created didgeridoos from finding dead tree branches that were hollowed out by rot and termites, though modern ones are made by splitting a tree branch in half and carving out the middle. They’re used by Aborigines in Dreamtime stories that show the didgeridoo as an essential tool in the creation of the world as well as a device invented directly by the gods and they class it as a sacred instrument which is used in both public and private religious ceremonies.

(Source: By Hmarin – Self-made image, from photos of my didgeridoo collection, Public Domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19164391)

Ancient South American Incas created panpipes made from hollowed out bamboo or reed canes strapped together in varying lengths that create beautiful melodies that bring to mind a relaxing sense of calm and serenity which many of these people lived by up in the Andes, growing their own food, having spiritual ceremony together and paying respect to the eagle as it flies overhead.

(Source: Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=268710)

The Kora of West Africa and Sitar of India are both created from either dried and hollowed out Gourds or Pumpkins with a long wooden neck that allow for several string to be attached, that once played in harmonious melody can transport our minds away from the problems we face in the physical world almost to a higher and happier state of consciousness.

(Source: By KannanShanmugamstudio, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18077100)

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitar)

It becomes clear to see how over long periods of time different tribes around the world have created instruments based on the materials they have around them which are then very unique to their own culture that have helped develop their own societies as music brings people together for celebration, religious or spiritual ceremony, for meditation and even funerary gathering but what seems more evidently important for us as humans that we can use music as a way of communicating emotions and stories to each other with or without the use of language.

As written down in the Vedas of ancient India, Om is believed to be the primordial sound frequency of the universe we live in and is a sacred sound used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

(Source: The Unicode Consortium – Derivative work of Om symbol.svg, Public Domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54100842)

Om refers to Atman which is the soul or self within as well as Brahman that is consciously imagined as the entirety of the universe, an expression of truth and divine supreme spirit or consciousness with cosmic principles of knowledge.

Patterns in nature

The Helical vortex model of our planetary movements around the sun shows a pattern on a linear 2D diagram that resonates with that of sound sine waves and the shapes of the conch shell, which in itself is one of the ways the universe expresses the Fibonacci sequence of: 0, 1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13 and so forth ad infinitum that gives us the Golden Ratio. Mathematics expressed in the universe which over thousands of years humans have discovered that reflect a divine creation blueprint of our universe which shows itself in the cosmic creation of conch shells, sunflower heads, snail shells, ammonites, pines cones & cacti. There are ties with the Fibonacci sequence in musical scales and harmonies.

(Artist :Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

(Artist: Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

(Artist :Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

Could it be that over time our interest in music as a form of communication is not also to understand our own expression of emotion and to bring us together during times of celebration, religious ceremony and even during times of hardship from warring, plague, drought & famine but also to unite us continually throughout time to resonate and communicate with each other and the universe itself?

Even the atoms and molecules that make us are almost entirely made of sound, which in turn, is frequency and vibrations. In order to attune ourselves to a higher level of awareness then, we often rely on the vehicle of sound. Whether it be chanting, playing an instrument, or even our own breathing, sound inspires us and invites us to explore and express what is within.

Origins of Indonesian gamelan

Whereas Balinese Hinduism existed for many centuries in Indonesia where 83% of the population identify as Hindu and the rest of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, Gamelan music predates the Hindu-Buddhistic culture & spiritual belief systems that spread from India throughout South-east Asia between 850 and 600 BCE. The traditional ensemble arrangement of Gamelan music originates from Indonesia which consist of 17,000 islands that include Java, Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi, Papa New Guinea and Bali.

(Source: Addicted04 – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8376146)

Gamelan ensemble music is created of an orchestra of instruments that comprise of hand-played drums, large bronze gongs, brass bells in varying sizes placed on meticulously carved wooden frames, brass plates also in scaled sizes on wooden frames that once created and tuned correctly to each other harmonise melodies that are very unique to Indonesia.

Sang Hyang Guru was a god king who ruled over Java from a palace on the Maendra mountain in Medang Kamulan, which in Javanese mythology is said that the instruments of gongs were created to summon the gods along with singing and shadow puppetry. To create complex messages of communication with the gods he created several differently tuned gongs which became the structure of Gamelan. The word itself, Gamelan, actually comes from the Javenese word ‘Gamel’ which is related the method of striking percussive instruments with a mallet and in Sudanese it is referred to as ‘Degung’. Degung is literally an ancient Sudanese word for gong and gong ensembles.

(Source: By fir0002flagstaffotos@gmail.com https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=445401)

My experience with Good Vibrations gamelan drop-in sessions

The first piece of Gamelan music I heard and loved was from the BARAKA soundtrack composed by Michael Stearns in a track entitled ‘Finale’ with the scene ‘Kecak’, whereby one of the most beautiful films made in human history shows a lady walking amongst rice paddies and then cuts to scenes of Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat, finalising in a spectacular recording of Balinese shamanic ritual chanting.

It was till years later after watching and loving the film BARAKA that I was introduced to Good Vibrations and Gamelan music sessions through a dear friend, Mike, which were hosted at Middle Street Resource Centre in Nottingham with lunchtime interactive classes led by Nikki.

Through going to Good Vibrations Gamelan sessions I became in much admiration and awe of the fantastic work of the Good Vibrations team, learning how you have implemented what could be classed as an ancient and tribal originating form of music creation and communication to help people around the UK in prisons and those working through mental health challenges.

As a musician I grew up first learning to play the violin at school which I quickly put down after a few years once I learnt more about classical music in the history of Europe and its links to a mentality of pomposity, class divide and wealth that has plagued and divided humans for too long. I moved onto the electric guitar as I grew up in my teens and was listening to albums by the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Camel, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Rammstein & a plethora of many more 60’s / 70’s psychedelic rock’n’roll and later 80’s and onwards metal.

Many years later I’ve now found a much more appreciative love for the violin by putting to one-side classical music but learning how the instrument itself is crafted by hand using the divine proportions of the Golden Ratio.

(Artist: Alex Rainsford, Anu Design)

At that stage in my life it felt like I was resonating with that form of music as the artists would convey lots of emotions in their melodies and lyrics. Over many years as my music tastes changed I developed a love and appreciation of World music, especially calmer more relaxing meditative ambient and ethnic music from different parts of the globe that I became attracted to at the same time as I focussed more attention to follow Buddhism and Hinduism on a bodhisattva path, which have helped tremendously to overcome the mental health stresses and problems I faced 15 years ago.

During the interactive Gamelan sessions with Nikki we would learn about the culture of Indonesian music and how they also treat their instruments as sacred pieces of temple like art, and learn about the different interlocking melodies played.

Anyone who wishes to join the session can choose which piece of Gamelan instrument or combination of instruments they wish to sit with that day and learn about Gamelan melodies which are first taught with series of numbers but with a continual feedback reminder from Nikki that once we learn the pattern we should use our ears to learn the melody and not the numbers.

Once I got over that mental hurdle everything started to make more sense as we individually would be remembering our own melodies which can seem tricky to play to start off with but get easier quickly over time with muscle memory and really using our ears. Nikki creates a very calm, open & responsive presence in the space as a musician and teacher facilitator that allows for people to both learn interlocking patterns & melodies during part of the session & intermixed with time to spend on free expression & experimentation of communication with each other through melodies we have learnt previously and adding bits of melodies we can create on our own.

Different people come to each session sometimes and there can be regular faces that come and it’s always been a pleasure to see them again and then build on what we learnt from the last sessions, learning more and creating something different each time. Nikki has been very dedicated and kind to record the practices on a Zoom Dictaphone which saved as wave audio files she then can send out to us by email to listen back to later on in the week for positive reflection and remembrance of the peaceful atmosphere created that day that seems to linger with me afterwards for sometimes up to a week in my head.

I believe now I can attribute my re-ignited passion for music production on Ableton, which I had put to the wayside many years ago during a period of depression, gratefully to the Good Vibrations team and to Nikki for hosting these sessions. I’ve learnt how to be open and responsive to other people more again through playing melodies with each other and keeping in tempo with people in the room. One meditation pondering brought me to the awareness that part of my depression in the past may have been due to my disconnect with instruments.

Keeping in tempo with other performers in the Gamelan space is critical for the musical journey to be created smoothly without off-beat or disharmonious sounds.

We were asked in one of the weekly emails to check out a link Nikki shared on some gamelan performances that came with recordings of that weeks recordings and create something in response to send back be it a piece of music, poem, a painting or anything creative that has inspired us.

From one of the audio recordings sent out by Nikki I sampled short and long loops of different stages of a practice session, which I played around with adding reverb & creating some percussion beats that subtly started to create the idea of a story in my mind. I’d recently been learning to sing the Shurangama mantra in Sanskrit which is a devotional mantra in honour of Amitabha Buddha which once translated in the full text honours the various Buddha deities that also removes negative energy from the mind consciousness and physical reality when chanted & wardens off evil and is well known as a protection mantra. I added vocal recordings of the intro of the mantra along with my Omming recording that brought me to a place of serenity and helped to compose the track together into a piece that I wished to share back with Good Vibrations to share with everyone freely for anyone who enjoys it.

With the current situation being the way it is Nikki has been hosting gamelan sessions over zoom which have been fun to join in with and I can imagine that anyone who has been participating in the sessions in Beeston is also as keen as I am to be able to get back to being in the same room once again and play explore our musical communications with each other.

Sound vibration and music as a form of healing

Cat’s purr when they are content and in a state of happiness and bliss, but also when they are frightened and stressed. Their purr resonates between 25 and 140Hz which was shown in a study conducted by Fauna Communications showing that the Hz range covers the same frequencies that are therapeutic for bone growth, tissue healing, pain relief, reduction of swelling, the growth of muscle and repair, wound & joint healing and tendon repair. Their inhalation and exhalation while purring is literally a bio resonance healing mechanism using sound waves.

Pre-dating the bronze age Gong sound baths have been used for over 6,00 years around the world as a form of holistic therapy that is both mentally and physically healing, which vibrate at the 9 Solfeggio frequencies between 174 – 963Hz. It is an ancient, multi-dimensional form of sound healing whereby participants lay on matt’s in a large room or hall and varying sizes of small to huge gongs are used by a trained Sound Healer to create a field of vibrations that you literally feel as though you are bathed in sound frequencies.

People who come for these sacred sound healing meditations say that they receive and manifest experiences which oscillate between the intensely introspective and the extremely cosmic, working together in combination of the two while helping you shed that which does not serve you.

Much like Gongs, Tibetan singing bowls are an ancient sound healing tool said to have originated some 3,00 years ago possibly from Mesopotamia before reaching the high plateaus of the Himalayas where Tibet became renowned for their production. Trained Sound Healers maintain that sound therapy places listeners in a meditative state allowing them to de-stress, relax and heal which can be used an alternative treatment for anxiety, chronic pain, sleep disorders and PTSD.

What is evidently clear is that the Universe is full of wonder and amazement and that our powers of imagination are not limited in creating musical devices which are tools for personal or shared healing and to communicate thoughts and emotions to each other.

Thank you for reading, I wish that your journey of self healing is fruitful and enlightening.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Anu Koechli

Our 2019-20 annual report and accounts

Our 2019-20 annual report and accounts

We are delighted to share our 2019-20 annual report and accounts with you. Like everyone, we write this report looking back on the year from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. Current circumstances are so unusual for everyone that they make the normality of 2019/20 look very remote. However, this report peers back through the fog, to look at our last full year through the lens of normality.

In 2018 we developed our three-year strategy. 2019/20 was our first year of implementation. We decided on a vision of “a safer and more empathetic UK, where vulnerable people, including those convicted of offences, are given the chance to become valued members of society, and to forge fulfilling, constructive lives.” Our corresponding mission was: “to inspire vulnerable people with complex needs to see what they are capable of, to motivate them, and to give them the tools to build more positive futures.” And our strategy was: “to help 1,500 people per year by 2022; and secure the long-term future of our work through slightly more staff, and more diverse sources of income, including from corporates and philanthropists.”

How well did we do against the goals we set ourselves?

The most important aspect of our strategy was of course who we helped and how we helped them. And during the first year, we exceeded the goal we had set for helping people by 10%, reaching 868 participants. We also reached more people in more settings. Our community work in particular involved working with many more partners, especially in Glasgow, a thriving centre of excellence for our work. In the prison estate, we had decided on a shorter, more focused list of settings where we will work. Our focus is on existing partners, then on more category B/C training prisons, on the female estate, in young offender institutions, and in secure training centres. This paid off; we delivered in all these, and have strong relationships in many prison settings across Great Britain as a result.

I’m pleased to say our finances continued to grow in resilience in 2019/20, which turned out to be invaluable when the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. We exceeded our income target for 2019/20, and we added not just our target £12,000 to unrestricted reserves, but nearly £22,000. We continued to diversify sources of income, including a 60% increase in individual giving. The one strategic source from which we raised no funds was corporate donations. This was despite a number of positive conversations. If anyone reading this report thinks they could connect us to a regular corporate donor, please do get in touch with Katy Haigh.

Our report for 2020/21 will look very different, because of Covid-19. We have been enormously grateful for the vision and flexibility of key funders, who have enabled us to diversify our activities and beneficiaries – even during lockdown. But of course the pandemic has given everyone a lot to think about. As a result we have recently undertaken a strategic review, which will soon result in an updated strategy. This review re-affirmed the central focus of our work and charitable objectives: using the power of collective music-making, creativity and teamwork, centering on the gamelan orchestra, to encourage and motivate people who feel disempowered because of the institutional settings they find themselves in and because of their previous life history. This power was very obvious during 2019/20 and we know it can return in a world recovering from the effects of Covid-19.

This pandemic has shone a sharp light on many themes we value as trustees and as a charity: the power of social connection; the unstoppable force of human creativity; the link between our mental health and our ability to live full and productive lives. We believe our mission to inspire people around these complex needs will be even more relevant in a world looking beyond (and back on) the current pandemic.

Jonathan Hollow, Chair of Good Vibrations’ Board of Trustees

16/12/2020

Design and build a new digital gamelan

Design and build a new digital gamelan

Author: Good Vibrations

National charity, Good Vibrations is calling for developers to submit proposals to design and build a new digital gamelan. Organisations and individuals who are interested should view and download the full brief here. Deadline for expressions of interest is the 9th December 2020. We plan to invite shortlisted people to present their initial proposals to us and discuss the project further on the week of the 14th December. This will be done virtually on Zoom.

Some of our aims, in commissioning this new digital gamelan, are to:

  • Enable novices, professionals and those in between to create and practise music on their own and with others using an accurate and authentic sounding digital gamelan orchestra
  • Help Good Vibrations continue generating positive personal, social and musical impacts for its target beneficiaries when our usual group gamelan projects can’t run
  • Help Good Vibrations continue generating positive impacts with participants post-project through a non-formal learning progression option that reinforces skills they developed and memories they experienced during their project with us
  • Enhance the experience for those already using digital gamelan, by improving the functionality offered, and maintaining the product robustly so its benefits are long-term
  • Generate another potentially impactful product and approach to add to Good Vibrations’ offer, to benefit a wider range of people in more ways in the future
  • Further widen access to the gamelan – enabling people to experience gamelan who can’t access a real gamelan orchestra or who are disinclined to give it a go

Good Vibrations remains committed to human, in person, group gamelan work remaining at the heart of what we do as a charity. We want to develop a virtual, technology-enabled strand using a digital gamelan to enhance our current offer, rather than replace it.

Date: 30 November 2020

Questions and answers about the commission: last updated 30 November 2020

Here is a list of questions people have put to us about this commission since advertising it, and our answers:

Q: “It has to *at least as good as* the one Wells Music School did a few years ago (Virtual Gamelan, sadly now – I think – unavailable) …”

A: “Yes, the, @UniOfYork R&D report and our feasibility study reached a similar conclusion! The brief we’ve put together name checks several highly rated past/existing digital gamelan and we are very keen for their developers to consider submitting a proposal for this new commission. We are in conversation with the developers of previous/existing digital gamelan to explore this option further.”

Q: “I was assuming this digital gamelan was just meant for gamelan musicians, and given the partnership with The University of York, they would develop the app. Is that not correct?”

A. “No, we want this digital gamelan to be both 1) Accessible for complete beginners and 2) Able to provide quite advanced functionality and features to experienced gamelan musicians. We know this is a huge ask! We recognise that our desired functionality, as set out in the brief, will only be able to be achieved in phased developments over time. We want prospective developers to have the confidence to present their proposals for that phasing to us. This is a project we value and want to support and develop long-term. We see the multitude of benefits it could bring – see the brief for full details of these. And, yes, this is a partnership project with The University of York, but we are opening out this commission to everyone to be fair and to increase the chances of us gaining more diverse proposals from a wide variety of developers. We are also keen for people who have already developed a digital gamelan to consider joining forces with us on this commission, to develop something even more accessible, with more functionality as per what the research says users want, and what Good Vibrations anticipates its target audiences will benefit from.”

Q: “Is this opportunity only open to UK developers?”

A: “No, it is open to everyone.”

Q. “Is Good Vibrations expecting all the desired features and functionality in the brief to be delivered in one phase, before April 2021?”

A. “No, we appreciate this this is an extremely ambitious brief, and at this point in time, we want developers to tell us how they would deliver phase 1 – but future-proofing it ready for the later phases.”

Remembering our patron Rahayu Supanggah

Remembering our patron Rahayu Supanggah

We are very saddened that our wonderful patron, Rahayu Supanggah, has passed away. He supported Good Vibrations for many years and was an incredibly talented composer and musician. He lived a long and full life, with over fifty years performing, composing and teaching gamelan in Indonesia and around the world. He was well known for writing music for theatre and films, won many awards for his compositions and was passionate about showcasing gamelan on an international stage. We were very privileged to have him as our patron.

Rahayu Supanggah had a close working relationship with many UK gamelan musicians, including several of the Good Vibrations team, dating back to the 1990s. He spent an afternoon in HMP Peterborough with one of our facilitators in 2008, and subsequently wrote of his experience in Indonesian newspapers. Our current Executive Director, Katy Haigh, had the good fortune to meet Rahayu Supanggah in 2017 at Cadogan Hall, London where his music for the film “Setan Jawa” was performed live on stage alongside the film. The music was haunting and beautiful, and incredibly exciting and innovative. Good Vibrations’ team members supported the production and the accompanying workshops and seminars as part of a 5-day London International Gamelan Festival.

As a person Rahayu Supanggah was always warm, friendly and welcoming to everyone, no matter how much experience or confidence they brought to his sessions. Talent and charisma shone through him and he inspired a new generation of gamelan players around the world. He will be missed very much and remembered with much affection.

Author: Good Vibrations

Self soothing practice

Self soothing practice

(Guest author: Elma Chapman)

Self Soothing Practice Finger Holds

The Ancient Art of Harmonising life energy in the body

My destiny is in my own hands – Mary Burmeister

The truth is that within each of us lies the power to cast all misery aside and to KNOW complete Peace and Oneness to BE that beautiful creation of perfect harmony to truly KNOW (Help) MYSELF – Mary Burmeister

This practice is the simplest form of maintaining good health – all illness begins with a slight imbalance of energy within the body systems – therefore let go the idea of how and why it works and just soothe yourself with the practice.

There is no cost involved, no equipment, it can be carried out anywhere, anytime – even on a busy bus, waiting in a traffic jam, watching telly – anywhere!

A good habit to get into is probably as you wind down to sleep and if you have the time, then first thing in the morning as you wake up in bed – nice start to the day.

To start with all you need is presence with yourself and of course your hands.

This practice will calm you and help you respond, rather than react to challenges life presents – will not take away the reality of the situation you find yourself in, but it will support you in how to deal with it.

The Practice:

    • Choose a finger
    • Wrap the opposite hand around it
    • Whilst holding it as long as you wish
    • Focus on your breath coming in and out
    • Give yourself permission to be present with yourself and relax
    • For the palm hold – you just place your thumb in the palm of the opposite hand – bit like holding your own hand – we all need someone to hold our hand – so why not yourself?

That is it – simple but effective – and available even as you chat/interview/meet your fears……………Happy Holding!

Restarting Covid-safe frontline delivery

Restarting Covid-safe frontline delivery

“Enjoying it so much they didn’t want to stop“
Good Vibrations’ experience of returning to front-line delivery post Covid

Six months ago, to protect participants and team members from the pandemic, Good Vibrations made the heart-breaking decision to stop front line delivery.

Two months ago, however, with virus rates decreasing, and after having worked with partner organisations to assess and put in place careful plans to manage the risks, we restarted three projects in a socially-distanced way. We are now delivering weekly music-making sessions at Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, and the Middle Street Resource Centre in Nottingham, and are confident that these sessions are bringing considerable benefits to people’s mental health.

HMP Wormwood Scrubs

Since the beginning of July, we have been running weekly, small group gamelan sessions in HMP Wormwood Scrubs’ Inpatient Unit. This unit houses about 20 people with mental health issues. This area has been deemed a ‘bubble’ as the patients on the wing remain on the wing, and do not have interaction with prisoners from the rest of the prison. Furthermore, there are protocols in place to ensure the physical health safety of all group participants. Each week our facilitator, John, works with two to five participants.

Lockdown measures in UK prisons from March have had, unsurprisingly, a negative effect on people’s mental well-being, with extra hours locked away in cell and all activities – e.g. education and arts projects – being cancelled. As far as we’re aware, Good Vibrations’ weekly sessions on the Inpatient Unit were one of the first activities to restart at this prison.

As usual on a Good Vibrations project or course, participants don’t need any musical experience to join in. Some will be musicians, but it’s not a requirement for playing the gamelan. When the group starts to play, it can be ‘all over the place’ musically for a while, with no beat or anything to latch onto, but gradually more musical sense emerges and interesting improvisations develop.

In some of the sessions, there is a real delicacy to the music-making. Sometimes the space feels safe but the music is fairly non-exploratory. At other times things are livelier, with dancing and individuals improvising solos that take the whole group off in a completely new direction. In between pieces, the group chat and open up a bit about their lives. The experience seems to help patients relax and smile more, which John says makes it feel very worthwhile.

“Overall, musically, it was a continuous stream of consciousness; some remarkable improvs, each one unrelated to what had gone before. They very definitely were enjoying it so much they didn’t want to stop.” (Good Vibrations Facilitator, John)

Sometimes nurses, officers, and cleaners join in. The mental health team, are especially sensitive to what is going on, and adept at giving space and supporting the process on a musical level. Good Vibrations has now become part of the routine on this ward, with staff there understanding the benefits of patients participating, referring them to sessions, and supporting them to attend.

The venue is ideal as music gently seeps out into the whole unit, giving it a lovely atmosphere. Sometimes John also plays and sings alone outside the rooms of older patients who don’t get out much, and they have told him how much they enjoy it.

As an organisation, we are delighted to have been allowed back into the prison after lockdown to help this group. Our initial impressions are that they seem to be benefiting from the experience in so many ways: from becoming better at listening and working with others; to being more flexible; to persevering with overcoming challenges; to growing in confidence in how they communicate with their peers.

Middle Street Resource Centre                                                         

We have also started running weekly gamelan sessions again at a community centre in Nottingham as part of our Resonate programme. These sessions are open to all, but targeted particularly at people experiencing mental illness. The sessions take place every Monday at Middle Street Resource Centre in Beeston, who we have partnered with for many years.

Our facilitator, Nikki, works with a regular group of up to five participants at any one time. Many of these are people we have supported in the past and most have fed-back that lock-down negatively impacted on their well-being.

Nikki maintained one-to-one contact with most of the core members of this group throughout lockdown through friendly calls and emails, and sharing information and links of interest. This seems to have been much appreciated. Conversations focused more on individuals’ wellbeing, feelings, and challenges they were facing. This built trust, helping Nikki be able to consult with them about when and how to bring back face to face sessions in a way they would feel confident about and safe to attend.

Some participants also attended Good Vibrations’ online samba and gamelan Zoom sessions during lockdown.

The lockdown has been particularly challenging for the majority of this group, with noticeably negative effects from social isolation, increased anxiety, and lack of structure resulting in lost sense of purpose. This has been especially true for those that were regular users of the centre.

There was a cautiousness, uncertainty and anxiety in the initial face to face sessions, mainly around changing government guidelines and the knock on effects these had to have on Middle Street Resource Centre’s rules around PPE, access and one way systems. The anxiety has eased as the weeks have gone by and sessions have become focussed on the music.

“All went well today with the first session. It was a nice gentle way back in and felt very safe. I set up workstations with a few instruments for each person so people could stay in one place and they had a set of beaters just for their use. All the participants received the new guidelines before the session.  I provided extra bits of PPE like spare disposable masks, and have put all the notations into plastic sleeves that can be wiped down.”  (Good Vibrations Facilitator, Nikki)

The room accommodates a maximum of five participants within social distancing guidelines so we have had to find ways of ensuring that all those who want to attend can. We have required participants to book in advance, but there are often last minute cancellations because people are experiencing a poor state of mental health on the day itself.

One participant particularly lacks self-confidence and has been previously very judgemental about his own musical ability, regularly saying, “I’m not musical”. When we started back, he struggled with timing and musical memory. He has attended every week since, however, enjoying improvising, listening back to the recordings, and working one-to one with Nikki. And now his confidence, listening skills, creativity, sensitivity of playing, and timing have really improved. On Monday, Nikki noticed him smile for the first time and express a sense of his achievement.

Bethlem Royal Hospital

We have also returned to Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in South East London, to run weekly Loophole Music sessions. Our facilitators, Jerome and Kieran run these one-to-one sessions, supporting individuals to make their own music using technology, voice, and western acoustic instruments. This is a setting we have been working in for more than 10 years.

“It feels good being back at Bethlem. Lockdown there meant that patients at River House were unable to attend a lot of their usual activities like the gym, and football matches. The community hub was also not open, so restarting Loophole meant they could get creative again.” (Good Vibrations Facilitator, Jerome)

Jerome and Kieran have been working intensively with six individuals here, helping them to produce their own tracks. The sessions take place in the Occupational Therapy Department which is open to the whole hospital. Patients currently attending are from the Adolescent Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, River House Forensic Unit and the National Autism Unit. The positive aspect of doing Covid-safe one-to-one sessions is that it allows adolescent patients to attend, who normally are restricted from mixing with other adult participants.

The project is booked up, showing the demand for creative activities in this setting. One 17 year old patient is fully engaged, learning about music production and mixing using Logic Pro and GarageBand. Two forensic patients are enjoying recording hip hop tracks, and another patient with autism, is loving using the iPads, with his occupational therapist telling us, “Simon (not his real name) is really benefitting from these sessions. It is rewarding to see him having some positive engagement and enjoying himself. This is a side we have not really seen before.”

We plan to develop this work over the autumn by: adding in extra morning sessions to meet demand; bringing on a past participant as a volunteer; and celebrating participants’ work through an online showcase.

Looking ahead

Of course, given the uncertainty around the pandemic, it’s difficult for us to know what will happen over the next weeks and months, whether we will gradually begin to do more face to face work in different settings, slowly start increasing group sizes, or whether we will have to suspend all activity again if there is another lockdown. But, whatever happens, we know now that we are able to work safely and effectively with participants, that we can be flexible and responsive to different settings, and that our team of facilitators are capable and confident of supporting vulnerable participants to feel safe enough to take a step back into creative, communal activity, which in turn will help improve their mental health and resilience in these uncertain times.

authors: Katy Haigh, Good Vibrations Executive Director, with John, Nikki, Jerome and Kieran

A facilitator point of view

A facilitator point of view

Some thoughts about working for Good Vibrations as a facilitator – Laurence Rugg

“Punishment is the last and least effective instrument in the hands of the legislator for the prevention of crime.”  John Ruskin (1819 – 1900 art critic and prominent social thinker and philanthropist.)

Many of our prisons date from the late nineteenth century. They are places with huge chapels. God was seen as the answer to problems. They reflect the notion of many Victorians that God, in whom most believed, together with punishment and justice, would bring the changes needed in society. Even the very architectural additions such as the scales of justice that form part of the iron railings which surround HMP Leeds reflect this. How much is this relevant to today’s society? Sadly it seems to be at the core in many prisons. Sadly much of society still believes justice is served by punishment. And yet the figures for repeat offending remain persistently high, surely reflecting that punishment has been of little effect. There must be another way.

Equally, the education act of 1870 began compulsory education for all. Before that it had been the preserve of religious societies who provided school places so that the teaching of reading would give children the wherewithal to read the Bible. In truth, it was brought in to address the problem of child labour, to stop children being sent up chimneys. Again, as with prisons, schools were brought in to address societal issues. As with prisons they missed the mark.Not only did they do that in Victorian times but they continue to do it to this day. How many children fail at school because it doesn’t seem to address their needs? How many of those children go on to end up in the prison system? Many of the children in today’s gangs have failed to engage with schooling in any positive way.

Clearly there are also other factors which also affect these issues, but they remain issues which see prisons and schools failing for so many people in society. The reason for this failure is because society in general doesn’t address the needs of the very individuals staring them in the face. In the case of prisons, problems have continued because of both society’s lack of interest and, of late, because of the severe cuts that were made to the prison service in 2010. Things that were being developed were the first things the coalition axed. As ever, that is always the case with the arts. Similarly, Tony Blair’s mantra of “Education, education, education” had a hollow ring as the curriculum narrowed, teaching to tests and the dead hand of OFSTED proclaimed that schools were failing if they didn’t achieve the requisite number of grade A to C GCSEs. I believe the two issues are directly linked. This is why I mention them in the same breath. It is why many of us who think, as did several Victorian philanthropists, that change only comes about when you deal with what is actually there, and explore the rich possibilities a group of people could present, if dealt with in a practical and sensitive way. What we have is a society that, in general, only cares about itself. A society which is driven by money and what it can buy rather than a society which cares about its fellow human beings, that cares about the folk with mental health issues, personality disorders, drug problems and people who just don’t cope well with many things they encounter in life generally. Surely this is where reform is needed and where organisations like Good Vibrations come into the frame, both to provide help for those people in prison or out in society.

I joined Good Vibrations seventeen years ago at its inception. Cathy, its founder, rang me to ask how using the gamelan worked with prisoners. She had heard I’d run a course at HMP Hull. It was a question I couldn’t answer. As far as I’m concerned folk in prison are just another set of people. I had done projects with various community groups and this was just another group albeit with different needs. If anything was different it was that people in prison, as with other places, quickly become institutionalised. That’s one of the glorious things about Good Vibrations that folk often say, “ I forgot where I was.” The effect of the music and nature of the work takes them into a different space, where they can forget, for a while, their present concerns. It relaxes them.

What Good Vibrations can and does do is provide a stimulus to build confidence to work as part of a group and produce something they have made together. This is no mean achievement for anyone, let alone people who are locked up. To this end, we facilitate most of the time rather than dishing out instructions for what is required, although that isn’t entirely excluded. To get this to happen demands a lot of faith in the product – creativity. This is never straightforward and easy because it demands that the facilitator encourages people to talk, listen and discuss. Again, the most common feedbacks are, “I was listened to” and “I was treated as a human being.” But what does this say about the experience of many in prison? One of the officers working on a PIPE (psychologically informed, planned environment) unit simply said, “When you open up in the morning it doesn’t hurt to ask how they are today.” And in one such unit I visited I asked a prisoner what they thought was different about being on a PIPE unit. He said, “Well, when you come back from a course an officer says, how did it go? They show an interest in you.” Simple, but very human things. Things missing in institutions which all too often simply don’t care.

It would be so good if changes could be made in prisons that seriously address such issues, where officers are given training in psychology and interpersonal skills. This costs money but even more than that – a will to make tackling the issue of reducing reoffending real and crucial. It needs people with skills to turn people around by providing the right environment to make this happen. Such is the case in Norway where they reckon they can do this, at most, over a timescale of seven years! Opportunities have been missed. When many officers retired in 2010, a priority could have been made to recruit and skill up those new recruits. However, the only thought at the time was to save money! In addition, to go back to my point at the beginning “society still believes justice is served by punishment.” Society doesn’t care.

I really appreciate the experiences I have had in working for Good Vibrations. Knowing that a group who may have been difficult to manage can pull themselves together to produce a performance on the last day of a course is so good. That’s because they really don’t want to let themselves down. That is part of what they’ve learnt in a week. They have found some self respect and what it is to be part of a group. I think the important issue to keep in mind is that although we use the gamelan to create music our courses are not primarily about making music but about providing a space for people to develop confidence, team working, creativity and a sense of worth. A facilitator uses his or her psychological skills to develop all these things in the short space of a  week. It sharpens ones ability to push things in a certain way, to let things go, to give people space to take on things they may never have dreamt of. Working for Good Vibrations isn’t always easy. It has changed the way I view so many things. It has changed my life.

Guest author: Laurence Rugg

7 September 2020

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Radio 4 appeal for Good Vibrations

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Radio 4 appeal for Good Vibrations

From the 9-15 August 2020, Professor Benjamin Zephaniah, presented a BBC Radio 4 appeal on behalf of Good Vibrations. You can listen to his three-minute appeal here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000lmj5. It tells his story, and the story of Good Vibrations’ participant, Errol, who grew up in care, spent many years in prison, but who has now gone on to turn his life around with the support of Good Vibrations and other arts and rehabilitation charities.

We are so grateful to everyone who has donated to the appeal so far. Their donations will help us to work with 100s more men, women and young people in prisons and young offender institutions. If you like what you hear and would like to support the appeal too, you can still donate here.

Thank you.

Benjamin also recorded the below for us talking about why he chose to support our charity.

 

Would you like to be described as ‘mental’?

Would you like to be described as ‘mental’?

Guest author: Elma Chapman

Having experienced 13 episodes of detainment in hospital, I cannot ignore that ‘Mental’ Health is an important part of my Life Journey, but it does not identify who I am.

It made me reflect on the label of my experience and the stigma and perception it carries. So I looked up the word Mental’, which I do not like and it means ‘Crazy’, so I have ‘Crazy Health Issues’!

How can we ever gain respect and admiration for the tough journey we push ourselves through and break down the barriers of perception, fear and stigma, that sperate us from the human society of ‘normal’ judgemental people with a label that means ‘Crazy’? Plus we are labelled by a dysfunctional system that labels all conditions from Anxiety to Lunacy with one all-encompassing label – Mental/Crazy!

I would love to find a kind, good word that describes us as a human being with challenges to our inner health systems and emotional wellbeing. A word that describes what is happening in a caring way that is not frightening for other people. A word that recognises the fragility and vulnerability of people with various conditions, who truly need to be recognised, accepted as they are with love and support and understanding – not perceived as a part of society to be pitied, feared and excluded in a quiet manner, due to a label ‘Mental’, which is a barrier before considering what that person has lived through.

So if anyone can consider a new way of describing our conditions, that reflects the courage and determination that we possess in our recovery journey, then please do so and let us change our perception.

Elma is a participant on a Good Vibrations project

Good Vibrations adapts in response to Covid-19

Good Vibrations adapts in response to Covid-19

Author: Good Vibrations

The pandemic has hit charities hard, and their beneficiaries even harder. But Good Vibrations, an award-winning national charity, using communal music-making to support people with complex needs, has throughout lock-down, developed creative ways to stay connected with the communities it supports. Supported by its funders, Good Vibrations has not hibernated, as many charities have been forced to do. It has adapted, found a positive opportunity within the crisis, and unlocked a flood of creativity. Instead of large group face to face music projects, it has devised a range of alternative activities and content – largely online – that are all about stimulating connection, creativity, learning and reflection.

A Charity News Today article tells you more.