Welsh National Opera’s Cradle project, has recently been recognised as part of a campaign by the National Lottery to shine a light on individuals in the arts sector using National Lottery funding to ensure that people are continuing to be engaged and enriched by the arts during a time of isolation and lock downs. Since the initial lockdown in March, Cradle Choir (a key part of the overall Cradle project) has continued to bring together adults with dementia and their families and supporters in the Milford Haven area, to sing and play music in weekly online sessions.
British photographer Chris Floyd has captured a series of 13 portraits of people across the UK, including WNO Producer Jennifer Hill who created the Cradle project, to bring this story to life. The finished portraits are digitally housed with a number of art galleries across the UK, who will be collaborating for the first time as a show of their support. The final collection is called: The National Lottery’s 2020 Portraits of the People. All of the portraits were captured adhering to strict social distancing.
Inspired by Jennifer’s own experience of her mother’s illness, and modelled on a Swansea pilot, The National Lottery initially funded a couple of years ago, the Milford Haven-based project launched in 2019 with a new adult choir and a schools programme. The weekly choir rehearsals are made up of people with dementia who are accompanied by friends, family members, carers and volunteers. ‘It’s a joyful hour,’ says Jennifer. ‘We don’t talk about dementia, we just have a nice time singing and supporting each other, and the chance to leave any concerns and stresses at the door and enjoy a supportive space.
When the pandemic struck, it looked as though the Cradle project would be forced to close due to the problematic nature of community singing. However, Jennifer was determined to keep the sessions going. Despite the tricky challenge of moving the choir online – the majority of participants are 50 years or older, and a lot of them didn’t even have a computer at home – Cradle evolved beyond a sing-a-long in mid-April, with short physical movement and breathing exercises for relaxation, as well as tongue twisters to keep the brain active, incorporated along with short performances from members or our chorus and orchestra.
The project was due to end in July with a sharing event for all participants, but inevitably was unable to take place in person. Determined that the show must go on, Jennifer organised a virtual event where members shared songs, alongside contributions from the creative team and short films created with school pupils.
The hope is that at some point we’ll be back in our Pembrokeshire home, the Torch Theatre. The idea will then be that because we’ve got the technology, we could grow the programme with digital sessions so that more local care homes and individuals not able to attend in person could link in. It’s all about the power of music to move, and if we can include more people, then we are fulfilling our mission.