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Data collection in Denmark

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Last year I successfully applied for an INTERDEM Academy fellowship in order to undertake a case study on music therapy as part of my PhD research. My project hopes to define and describe arts interventions for people with dementia. INTERDEM is a European research network with a focus on psychosocial interventions for people living with dementia that improve quality of life. Their fellowship supports PhD students and postdoc researchers to spend time with an INTERDEM colleague in a different research environment to enable learning and collaboration. My particular aim for the case study was to carry out data collection related to music therapy – through observations, focus groups and interviews – in order to understand more about music as an art form, and therapy as a clinical approach.

In April I found myself heading off to Aalborg University in Northern Jutland, Denmark, to join Professor Hanne Mette Ridder and a team of practicing and researching music therapists, based at the impressive Musikkens Hus (Music House) concert venue that sits overlooking the Limfjord. Three magical months have passed and it is now time for me to return home, brimming with fresh perspectives, reflections and a newfound appreciation for Hindbærsnitter (Google it – trust me). I am so grateful for having the opportunity to spend time in Denmark. I have been greeted with such friendliness and hospitality, had the chance to see some truly wonderful and impressive examples of best practice care for people living with dementia, and met some really inspirational people. I’m gushing, I know, but with good reason.

My time in Denmark has been filled with incredible experiences. The week long PhD course in music therapy packed with stimulating presentations and discussions with colleagues and peers, culminating with an evening of candlelit musicking in a cabin in the woods. The hygge warmth of a care home, where the day begins with a shared breakfast between clients and staff accompanied by morning singing and fresh coffee from hand-decorated mugs. Conducting a focus group with people with dementia in Danish, with spontaneous translation from a music therapist, while I shared with everyone a taste of my native Lincolnshire in the form of Poacher cheese and plum loaf. Shadowing a music therapist to a home visit near the seaside and being lead on a coastal hike across stunning windswept sand dunes. Visiting a tranquil Neurocentre for multi-disciplinary rehabilitation, located in a forest, which I navigated to on foot with a hand-drawn map. Being given a moving insight into a beautiful hospice care facility with a delightful garden tended by a team of dedicated volunteers. Joining a choir in Aalborg where I met a fantastic and lovely group of singers, and took part in their summer concert of Danish, Swedish, Spanish and English music. There is a glorious culture of singing in Denmark and I have been immersed in a canon of traditional song that has introduced me to scores of new tunes. I know I shall carry on humming these once I’m home.

I’ll be honest. Before going to Denmark, I was a bit nervous about the language barrier. Despite nearly everyone speaking excellent English, I was worried how I would communicate, how I would contribute, how I would draw insight and knowledge. But it transpires I shouldn’t have been concerned. Why? Because yet again, music came to the rescue. The universal language. Taking part in group music sessions with people with dementia, I had a unique participant perspective as a researcher. Unable to understand or speak Danish, the music became two things: my main focus of analysis without the distraction of words, and my prime mode of connection with others. Helpfully, this took me to the heart of the therapeutic relationship. Music engages, expresses, reflects and validates in ways that are mutual, meaningful and unique. Using egg shakers and drums, eye contact and voice, I saw and felt how I could converse and speak across nationality, generation and mother tongue. Smiles and melody, laughter and rhythm: these can say so much.

So, I return to England with brilliant memories, new friendships, lots of research data and a heart full of song. A massive thank you to everyone who has supported me, welcomed me and helped to make my time in Denmark so memorable and special.

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