From Gateshead to Hull with a Glass Band

[18 May 2017]

Everybody likes learning something new and we all can, whatever our age or perceived ability. The Butterflies learned this week that they could all be musicians and enjoy creating wonderful sounds, with glass percussionist Brendan Murphy. Brendan will be calling Hull home for the week as he leads a series of workshops from Butterflies HQ 2nd floor Kardomah 94, building up to the launch of Reflections.

Reflections is the second part of our year-long programme focussing on different stages of dementia. This month we reflect on life after diagnosis, recognising the changes to a person’s life, how those changes can affect loved ones, understanding the changes, yet still moving forward to life beyond diagnosis.

From his Gateshead studio Brendan experiments with musical ideas, conjuring up fabulous instruments, then has them made to exact specifications, by master glassmakers in Sunderland. Using the wine glasses each filled with water to exacting amounts, Brendan plays songs which the group can recognise: to begin with the tunes are partially hidden, disguised by all the different tones and unusual sounds.

All the instruments are finely tuned - how, is a mystery to me, perhaps thickness of glass, diameter of bowl, something else? - but the resulting musical motifs create layers of shimmering harmonics that have a comforting almost hypnotic feel. They wash over the listener in waves of uplifting sound.

Through Brendan’s simple encouragement and his down-to-earth approach - I did say he was a Northerner - carers and cared for have come to Butterflies HQ from different groups, Derringham, Garden Village, Cottingham, residents from care homes and representing the cross-generational initiative, pupils from Francis Askew Primary plus members of Freedom Road, to take part. The week of workshops has had an undeniably positive impact.

The beauty behind the success is the simplicity of the music making, it takes barely seconds to create pleasing sounds on the bespoke instruments. With a little guidance you can understand a rhythm and feel part of an ensemble - all working together, all making music together. The special instruments such as the glass marimba, glass tubular bells, pieces that look like giant brandy snifters and strange resonant bowls, are brought to life by a wet finger caressing the lip of the bowl, or by use of a small mallet striking the differently textured glass. Interestingly the first thing that the butterflies member said was about the sensation; feeling the vibration of the cauldron-sized bowl. long before they heard the drone sound.

The health benefits are obvious, hand an eye co-ordination, exercising the brain, communicating, socialising and having fun. It is the fun element that Brendan underlines, the fun of getting up and having a go; it doesn’t matter one bit if you hit the wrong note, or even if you decide to play your own thing. It is just about taking part: focusing on what you can do and not what you can’t.

The sense of achievement after having made the decision to join in - surprised yourself that you could do it - reverberates around the room, as much as the sound of Brendan’s wine glasses. A lady new to Butterflies this week is soon surprising herself and her daughter, by overcoming her initial shyness and joining in. Soon everyone is laughing and smiling, the best moments come through spontaneity, where you look around and realise everyone is there, together, as equals, sharing in that same special moment.

After a stint on the glass marimba duetting with Ray…
‘Shall we form a band for city of culture and sell-out the City Hall?’

Brendan jokes about going into business with his new band members:
‘We could open a business, sound healing therapy.’

‘Hasn’t it been a wonderful week.’

‘I’ll be going home and getting mi daughters glasses out.’

[Michelle Dee]
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Supported by Hull UK City of Culture 2017