The Religion of Luck.

I was raised in Derry Northern Ireland. A city that regularly tops deprivation leagues throughout Ireland. A city in a country that was divided by religion. A nightmarish history of which many of the residents are trying to wake from still smothers the city.

The area in which I grew up had a few pubs, two chapel’s and several bookmakers. Employment for men at the time was scarce. If you managed to get a money for your labour there was always some establishment or another willing to take it off you, none of them as oblique as the bookmakers or ‘bookies’.

Being a religious city, great faith was placed upon the encompassing power of a lord above. Other beliefs also place not far from the grounds of the chapel, that had strange rituals and the worshipping of false idols.

The bookies were an amazing place, as a child you were forbidden to enter by parents or by law, as I grew up in Northern Ireland it didn’t take long to realise that neither opinion mattered much. I would be taken with an uncle as a trip to the bookies was ‘something to do’. The bookies were filled with cigarette smoke, commentators speaking in tongues and men pensively studying racing guides waiting for their epiphany. The smoke would help cover the bravado of the many men who hoped their unfounded confidence would hide their false consciousness.   The floor would be covered with betting slips, scrunched up meaningless pieces of paper discarded with negligence, the bet was most likely placed in haste or the conditions weren’t right but the next bet would make up for it and if not, there was always the bet after that.

Deserted luck would someday make a triumphant return to reward their faith, with hopefully spectacular results. Of course, we heard nothing about the losses only the amazing and seemingly miraculous wins.  Many patrons of the bookies would practice their pantheistic beliefs on a Saturday, only to sheepishly return to the chapel on a Sunday to beg forgiveness and leave a little donation in the collection plate. Cognitive regret and catholic guilt bonded quite well.

There was always great faith that bookmakers could be beaten, a higher power guided your fate and if you believed, the favourable outcome of sporting events would be granted to the many pious souls looking for fortune. The two great spires of the cathedrals that dominated the city, reminded you that mysterious forces were at work, as did the many army watch towers which tried their best to reinforce panopticism to little or no avail. The illusion of control was practiced by all the opposing sides as well as the gamblers in the city at that time.

Returning to Derry  I discovered that the same bookies I visited as a child is still welcoming new believers, each one practicing the strange and weekly rituals of the past congregation. The omnipresence of bookmakers is ubiquitous, their presence can be easily downloaded onto your smart phone or computer so the once weekly practice can easily become daily. Over the years, the power of the church and the visibility of a military presence would diminish, yet the influence of the bookies never faltered, luck it seems is big business.

As I was back for the funeral of my grandfather, I decided to pay a little tribute to him by trying my luck. My Grandfather loved to bet, he would study the betting forms voraciously. Every factor was taken into consideration, past performances, weather conditions, managers/trainers, time of the kick off or the beginning time of the race. A gamblers fallacy beautifully illustrated.

I myself had no such gambling experience, the wasted childhood hours of hanging around bookies and poker machines had somewhat turned me against the chance of easy money. Regardless, I set up my account and placed my bet. I decided on an instant scratch card game. Absolutely no skill or studying of past form was required, you could make the computer automatically scratch a segment for you. After your choice was revealed you had the option to reveal the other choices only to see that what you had missed out on. Ten thousand or two hundred pounds, or another sum which unfortunately I never won but had come so close, if only…

If Only and what ifs were the questions of that night. I tried many rituals, convinced there was a system, covering the screen, finding patterns that didn’t exist, trying to outguess the programme. Convinced that the next one would be the big reveal, I was sure I’d win the jackpot, in-fact I deserved it for such a tragic day.

The thought of a worthy win because of a tragic day was flippant. Believing your circumstances are balanced by some karmic scale that gives with one hand and takes with the other, is a scenario that many in the area which I grew up would find ridiculous.

The seductive and divisive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ as highlighted by Rowan Williamson (The Archbishop of Canterbury) has made an unwelcome return. I believe many in my hometown at that time may be called ‘undeserving poor’ if I may use those words. They were born in the wrong city, at the wrong time and maybe the wrong religion. There were other factors against them. The church preached that the poor would enter heaven. Those beliefs were not shared in the local bookies, as the lord’s name was taken in vain if your latest losing horse stumbled across the finishing line.

Today, many criticise the outdated rituals and beliefs of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The notion that God is always with you and watching over you is regarded as fantasy. Yet the bookmaker can always be with you, easily downloaded apps onto your phone guarantee around the clock access. The private and personal on-line bookmakers encourage your rituals, your beliefs, your silent prayers, to any God. No longer do you have to feel shame nor guilt for entering a place of such ill repute as a book makers. Today, you can lose all your money in the comfort of your own home, replace your religious beliefs with materialistic, your wooden cross with a gold one. The church of the book makers is all inclusive ecumenical phenomenon. Paddy Power, the famous Irish bookies has sponsored the first Catholic confessional box, moral and gambling tips available under the same roof. Both powers preaching from the same altar, gambling and religion, together at last. It seems that the church to prosper may have believe that life is game in which you can gamble. We don’t need faith or luck to predict how that one game ends.



Collaborative Composition. An essay on collaborating in music and education settings. Written for University.

On the 24th of June electronic musician/composer and performer Squarepusher aka Tom Jenkinson posted this message on his website. If you don’t want to reads the entire message it’s a call for musicians of all types to collaborate with him as a response to the European Referendum. Jenkinson wanted to make a piece a music with collaborators regardless of age or ethnicity as a compliment to the result. He wanted to use music to reaffirm a connection amidst a “disturbing situation”.

This type of collaboration gives a voice and a platform for the countless bedroom musicians, producers and performers. Many of whom possibly self-taught and discovered music through self-directed learning. Learning, sharing and educating in this way is what Paulo Freire refers to as Liberating Education.[1] The collaborative compositional project made the participants, teachers and students, simultaneously.”[2]

A project like the one mentioned above is in no way unique, it’s easy to find many websites and forums online with similar projects. Many professional and amateur musicians are sharing their skills, entering dialogue and thus moving away from what Freire calls “bank education”.  The professional musician, in this case Jenkinson, is no longer seen as the teacher. He is one who is taught through dialogue.[3] He teaches whilst being taught[4]. The collaborators become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.[5]

Online, the most popular forms of collaborative composition are pop, rock and electronic. Many teenagers and other age groups regularly sign up to forums to share ideas and write music together. The aforementioned styles are heavily reliant on collaboration. Although some Western Classical musicians have collaborated with others, the popular genres are what spring to mind when you think of collaborations. In the paper: Music education in the Twenty-First Century: A Psychological Perspective. David J. Hargreaves et al, speak of a third level learning environment, i.e. not at home or school. This third level environment could be the street, a garage, a bedroom or a youth club. [6] Musical activities in the “third environment” are, self-directed and highly motivational.[7] Skills are learnt by imitating, talking and watching other musicians and each other. John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s ground-breaking compositional work took place in just such an environment, and had very little to do with school music education.[8]

 Third tier learning is done away from the classroom without the interference of teachers[9]. For “popular” music to remain important to many teenagers and inspire future composers and collaborators in the genre, “it’s important for the music teachers who are mostly the product of a classical western music education to provide a scaffolding structure and resources to integrate into the third level learning environment.”[10]


Music is so often used as a badge of identity for teenagers and adults alike. Collaborative compositions allow for different styles to combine, to form new musical compounds, break social conventions and unite not only musical genres but social groups as well.

With music becoming so ubiquitous the dynamics between composer, performer and listener are ever-changing. I once seen a band who claim to have no songs, no albums, no set lists and never do the same performance twice. The Bays were a band made up of session musicians who played with everyone from The Spice Girls to numerous top ten acts. “The Bays enter into a creative agreement with their audience and the dance floor and what they receive from the audience they reinterpret that response into music.”[11]  In this case the audience was part of the collaborative composition. The audience and their response to sounds/tempos and beats helped write the music. It was a great experience to be a part of a compositional process as the lines of performer/composer/audience and listener evaporated.

With the advancement of technology, everyone can now take part in the compositional process and through websites like you can collaborate with many musicians at any level. Technology and third tier learning is shifting the musical paradigm away from classical and popular instruments and dragging music into the digital age. Anyone with a computer or tablet can create, compose and collaborate. More people than ever can now call themselves musicians.

Some examples:

Charles Hazelwood and Sqaurepusher:[12]  Classical meets Drum ‘N’ Bass. I was in the audience for this quite an eclectic mix of people.

Aphex twin and Alarm Will sound Orchestra:[13] Arrangement by Stefan Freund. Orchestral collaborative arrangement of an idiosyncratic electronic music piece.

Rock Musician Frank Zappa and Ensemble Modern:[14] G-spot Tornado. With Dancers.



Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oprresed. London: Penguin.

Hargreaves, D. J. (2003). Music education in the 21st century: A psychological prespective. British Journal of Music Education, 147-163.

Jenkinson, T. (2016, July 15). Retrieved from

Kompoz. (2016, July 15). Retrieved from


[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of The Oppressed. (London 1993, Penguin Books) pg 60

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of The Oppressed. (London 1993, Penguin Books) pg 53

[3] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of The Oppressed. (London 1993, Penguin Books) pg 61

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] David J. Hargreaves, Nigel A. Marshall and Adrian C. North (2003). Music education in the twenty­ first century: a psychological perspective. British Journal of Music Education, 20, pp 156-157

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Bays., accessed 17/07/16

[12] Charles Hazelwood and Squarepusher, Ufabulum. accessed 15/07/2016

[13] Aphex Twin and the Alarm Will Sound Chamber Orchestra. accessed 15/07/16

[14] Frank Zappa and the Ensemble Modern. accessed 15/07/16

Rhythmix: Music and Dementia.

Rhythmix: Music in Healthcare. Alzheimer’s and Dementia.


Would you like to dance? Not a question I get asked every day, especially in a ward full of elderly patients living with dementia. I looked around at the staff for signs that this maybe a bad idea, maybe I had to decline politely? The participants and staff did not seem shocked or bothered by the question. In fact, many were displaying sly smiles. Courteously I obliged, standing up I thought about how I would handle the situation. I must be gentle, I scanned the make shift dance floor trying to note potential hazards, trying to make sure that the dance would end with us both on our feet. Gently I took her hand and the musicians started up a rousing version of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.  I was twirled and controlled and made to perform as if I was in some late night barn dance. My head was spinning and my partner was less than impressed with my lack of coordination. “Come on” she said. “Keep up”. Throughout the song I was thrown, spun and contorted in all directions. I was given a dance lesson as well as an amazing display of energy and vitality. When the song ended my head spun and I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I felt like I had stepped off an amusement ride at Brighton pier. As a reward my partner gave me a cheeky pat on the backside as I sheepishly sat back down. My partner continued with her lively and rousing dancing on her own. I wasn’t good enough.

This was my introduction to music in healthcare in a setting for people living with mid to advanced stage dementia.

I was privileged to be allowed to observe five music sessions in an assessment unit for people with dementia. I was not privy to any confidential information nor did I see the patient’s outside the one-hour music session each week. This account is what I witnessed and observed.

According to the NICE report. “Group activities such as singing will prevent a decline in independence and support mental wellbeing”. [1]

The report also goes onto say that: It is unclear whether it is the singing itself, the group based activity or something else that produces the benefit”[2]

What is that something else?

During the five weeks I witnessed some of the most humane and emotional moments, too many to mention them all but some will forever stick with me. During my last few weeks I sat beside the patients and talked to them during the sessions helping them with rhythms, encouraging them with singing and generally being someone to chat to. I had a conversation with a patient who admitted that she could remember no music, could not sing and was generally nervous about the group. I gave her some percussion and allowed her to explore the instrument in her own way. There is no need to play or sing correctly, that fabulous word, “Musiking”[3]was always in my mind. The lady in question was soon requesting songs, singing what she could remember and at one point after a version of “We’ll meet again” she began to cry.

She told me about her memories of her sister who has since passed and her sisters love for the song. “Music aids reminiscences and memories which can be emotional in nature to be revisited.”[4] The inclusion of music in healthcare settings can help with Reminiscence Therapy.  Reminiscing which music can be an aid for can improve mood, wellbeing and can improve mental abilities such as memory. By talking about who they are It can focus the patient on memories and what they can do rather than what they can’t.  She shared a few stories about her sister and her obvious longing for her. Music helped with a cathartic release in a consequence free context.[5] In non-scientific terms, she felt better after a good cry. [6]

Another incident was the final session for one lady whose husband joined her for the music session. As they sat holding hands singing Que Sera, Sera.  The inexorable meaning of the lyrics and the music said more about the situation than any essay, report or observation ever could.  The song also allowed the spritely personality of that one patient to be revealed again to her husband as they sat enjoying the group sing along in the supposed sterile environment of a ward.

It is a sensitive and difficult approach whether to play sad music in such a setting, but the human obsession with sad music will never disappear. Some of the biggest and most popular pieces are sad songs that deal with lost loves, unrequited loves and the Requiems of Classical music. These subjects and pieces will continue to remain popular and if a cathartic and positive release can be gotten from them then why not use them?[7] The music sessions are a space to remember memories happy or sad with the musicians, nurses and OT are there to provide support when needed. Music can induce involuntary autobiographical memories which can help well-being and help with creative thoughts.[8]

Not every session had such melancholy moments. Most of the sessions were full of wonderful happy, humane moments. Every week the same patent thanked the leaders and myself for coming. She joined in with an enthusiasm that was infectious, no matter what the tune she joined adding her percussive element and creativity. For the hour each week those who attended, despite being highly individual, came together in unison through rhythm and song, they worked as a collective to encourage the sharing of old memories and to create new ones.

The repertoire was mixed and varied from war songs, classic pop tunes to obscure show tunes. Choosing a repertoire to satisfy such a group is an unenviable task and one that I thought the leaders managed with great skill and sensitivity. Each week they had a new tune to add or a song that was requested the previous week. The research and dedication to finding a tune for each patient was admirable and highly person centred the musicians have done a great job of bonding with each participant making sure to take an interest in the patient’s musical taste.

One lady who did not want to take part in the session as she only listened to classical music. Ignorantly I put this down to musical snobbery. I could not have been more wrong. To strip one of their preference of music is to take away their sense of identity already being peeled away by their stay in the hospital, their connection to life outside the hospital setting maybe defined by their love of classical music. I played in future sessions a brief snippet of Lute Suite in E major by Bach, unfortunately the lady had been discharged when I got round to playing it. With the development of music technology and apps on I-pads it is now possible for everyone to play. If only the lady had of been willing to explore the technology available to allow her to play strings or brass on the I-pad allowing her to create in the musical genre she loved.

The work carried out by the musicians crosses many boundaries form community music to music therapy. A study by psychologist Laura Mitchell[9] found that music if being used for a therapeutic reason should include the persons preferred music. “Music therapy for a heavy-metal fan should include heavy-metal.”[10]

The musicians performed the repertoire and the participants joined in rhythmically, orally, with movement or some listened. The musicians were the facilitators and spurned the session on. One instance which happened quite fortuitously was maybe my favourite moment of all.

The song being performed did not come to its natural cadence. Every participant throughout my observations recognised the cadence in every tune naturally and musically, every song ended with grace and with minimum effort from the group. For one reason or another the musician forgot to play the cadence and the rhythm kept going. For around two minutes’ the rhythm kept up, there was no defined performer, no facilitator, no structure, no restrictions. There was a great amount of eye contact between everyone and smiles when it was agreed non verbally to carry on. The room was in unison, concentrating together to carry the pulse and rhythm, everyone’s contributions could be heard, all contributions were unique, individual and valid. Without speaking everyone had found their voice and had added to a spontaneous group composition. When it came to an end it ended with satisfied silence, everyone had connected through music.

A cliché and overused quote by Victor Hugo. “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Perhaps this unspoken communication is the something else? Music is part of our lives from birth to death. Throughout life we create our own personal soundtrack, we imprint music with our own personal journeys. Music is not only inside us all, Music has the power to reflect who we are and music defines us. [11]

Perhaps that something else is the humane and inclusive moments, the sharing of memories and the connection and bond you feel and create with others as you partake in a musical activity.


Gary Cunningham.

[1] Older people: independence and mental wellbeing. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

[2] Ibid pg23

[3]To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing.

[4] Victoria Williamson. You are the music. Icon books. London, 2014

[5] Tom Service, the listening service. BBC3 Why Music Moves us. First Broadcast 2/7/2016

[6] Ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Marianne Abbott, Brain world. Issue 4 Summer 2016

[9] Laura Mitchell, music therapy study. Retrived from The New Yorker, July 4th 2016

[10] Ibid pg 66

[11] Tom Service, the listening service. BBC3 Why Music Moves us. First Broadcast 2/7/2016

Music in Healthcare

Wishing well. Music in hospitals.

I recently attended a five-day intensive training course hosted by Wishing Well who gave training to ten musicians to enable them to play music in hospitals.

Every musician was unique, flexible and adaptable to many different musical environments but this training challenged us all.

“It’s only recently that music has become a cerebral activity.”[1] A polite listening experience followed by a somewhat robotic round of applause. Being shushed at open mic nights, classical music gigs or bizarrely at a Fugazi gig was common to see, for me anyway.

“The feeling of music should be processed internally, we have trained ourselves to appreciate music in a civilized manner.”[2] Stravinsky, Beethoven and countless other composers have all the raw passion of any rock band. The excitement, the musical twists and turns yet we are expected to sit still and motionless whilst the sentiment of this emotional music spills from the orchestra.

It is common for musicians to have barriers, security at rock, pop gigs. The elevated stage where the musician performs acts as a barrier. If music is really meant to communicate it would be nice if no barriers existed. Even as musicians it is possible to hide behind other band members or even our instruments. We can allow the instrument that we are meant to express ourselves with become a barrier for musical communication.

At the training we were expected to play for one person only whilst the other trainees watched. We sat in a circle and waited for our turn and played to the person who was sat five spaces down from us clockwise.  The awkward approach to your listener, the strange eye contact, hyper awareness of others and always checking your body language.  Feeling exposed, alone, no hiding place, how to end the song and when?  when to smile? when to make eye contact? You don’t want to eyeball someone the entire time like a crazed folk singer busking for change. A very new and difficult task for us all, something that I have never experienced. Watch a master at work. If you want to challenge yourself then try it. Next time you play engage with one person only, see if you can make that connection. It is intense, strange and something you may not be very comfortable with but you won’t forget it.

The training reshaped ego’s and preconceptions of what music is and what a musician is supposed to be. Yes, we may all have been capable of amazing musical feats but the training allowed us to step outside our comfort zone and perform uninvited. We had to work hard for the invitation from patients and it was not always forthcoming. No one had paid or even bothered to show up to hear us play as musicians. Essentially we had invited ourselves into their space and it is a difficult task to make it comfortable for all. It was highly important for us to remember who we were performing for in a hospital setting, playing to entertain yourself will get boring quite quickly. You may find yourself playing the “Bare Necessities” or “The Wheels On The Bus.” I’m not sure if that’s a daily task for some of you but it certainly isn’t for me. The more you open yourself to the experience, the more you will benefit.

A common theme during the training was “playing with” and “playing for” patients.  You enter a room whilst playing, maybe an underscore or an ostinato on the instruments. If you make contact with a patient and he joins in you are “playing with”. You can compose a spontaneous piece with his interactions.  Allowing the patient to be the creator of the composition , they are free to express themselves as they wish and you provide the accompaniment. You are communicating through music, talking with no words, only your instrument. Awareness of your body language, facial expressions and at what height you stand are of up most importance. Children look at you strangely at first but music has the power to create bonds of trust very fast.

On day four of the training it was my turn at leading an interaction. It involved a young boy with limited English. He touched the guitar with curiosity and trepidation, always seeking assurance and comfort from his mother. His mother seemed so happy for the distraction. Spending all day in a ward with the alien sounds of machines that cannot help but be intrusive and strange to a child’s ear. I suspected that maybe we as unknown and uninvited musicians, may also be classed as intrusive.  I have to say that on the wards I was made to feel most welcome by staff, parents and children. After a short time, the child forgot about the setting and his mothers comfort. He was joining and playing with me. Strumming the guitar, using a rain stick and satisfying his musical curiosity. It was a sad sight to leave him. As he wished us goodbye he stuck his face to the glass door which separates the children’s ward from the rest of the hospital. It was almost like he was stuck in a jail of sorts. His freedom and that of his parents is limited, interaction with anyone other than hospital staff is a rare occurrence. Music created a welcome distraction, a chance to express pent up feelings by the children. A chance for empowerment, autonomy and an opportunity to bring families back to a normality for a brief period. Music can help strengthen family bonds in hospital but most of all it brought a chance to have fun in an atmosphere heavy with worry and anxiety.

What are the benefits of projects like this?

In Nigel Osbournes’ video, Music and Trauma[3], he explains how music and particularly when singing, can use 100 percent of the lungs. Music can help reduce anxiety and control of the breathing during bedside procedures. Osbourne calls music, “the machine of human empathy.”

  • “Singing gives off more information about oneself, confesses more about who I am and what I am about more than words.”
  • “Music helps children regulate themselves.”
  • “Music is highly interactive and uses more parts of the brain than any other activity.”

With all the research and positive results, it startles me that the music in hospitals in unfunded by the N.H.S. Such a therapeutic activity is somehow overlooked. It benefits not only patients, but families, siblings and the hospital staff themselves.

I believe it’s time that we make use of the beneficial effects of music and encourage more musicians to use their talent in the healthcare setting. Music may not heal medically but it’s a great aide that helps the healing process immensely.

If you are interested, many scholarly articles are available on the internet about the therapeutic effects of music and music in healthcare.

To find out more information or make a donation to Rhythmix or the Wishing Well project:



More information on the wishing well project can be found here.



Daniel J Levitin. This is your brain on Music, Plume/Penguin 2007.

Nigel Osbourne, Music and Trauma



[1] This is your brain on music, Daniel Levitin.

[2] Ibid

[3] Nigel Osbourne Music and Trauma


Wishing well. Music in hospitals. I recently attended a five-day intensive training course hosted by Wishing Well who gave training to ten musicians to enable them to play music in hospitals. Every musician was unique, flexible and adaptable to many different musical environments but this training challenged us all. “It’s only recently that music has become a cerebral activity.”[1] A … Continue reading Music in Healthcare

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