Last month we profiled Laura Cubitt who created the beautiful ‘Journey through Puppetry’ for one of our Zest groups. This month we’d like to introduce the talented singer/songwriter Emily Watts who is a regular Zest workshop leader for Bright Shadow.
Emily has a drama background having studied drama and theatre studies at the University of Kent . This was also where she met Katy and Rhiannon the co-founders of Bright Shadow. Following graduation Emily worked for the Gulbenkian Theatre in marketing and pursued other jobs in arts management for a while. However, her passion for music eventually won out and so she started working for the inspiring Music For Change as a project manager, a role she still has today.
Through shadowing artists, an opportunity came up to work for Bright Shadow on a pilot project called Zest Communities: Thanet in 2016 Emily’s focus soon shifted to participatory arts and community music, (she’s currently one of the founding leaders of Community for Canterbury Community Gospel Choir) and after taking part in the dementia awareness training we offered, Emily was soon delivering Zest community workshops every week using her musical skills to engage and stimulate participants.
Zest in the time of Covid
Like so many organisations, Bright Shadow has had to reconfigure how to deliver creative sessions, and so in 2020 we devised a pilot to test how we could adapt to the online space. Emily was one of the artists we asked to work on the pilot in care homes last year and due to its success it has continued through the winter and spring, with Emily facilitating up to six sessions a week, all of which have a different theme ranging from ‘India’ to ‘Sixties’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ . So far, she’s delivered 122 sessions in 18 care homes!
I asked Emily how the lockdown and particularly having to move to Zoom has been for her.
“At first I was hesitant having never not been physically with the participants but having such amazing care workers has been brilliant, they’ve been my assistance on the ground.”
The care homes too have been very quick to adapt and Emily has found that group activities such as writing stories together provide something for everyone, including care workers, to really enjoy participating in. These sessions have clearly been a lifeline, particularly for care home residents who have been so isolated over this past year. Emily’s brilliant combination of music, imagination and movement have helped to keep spirits up.
Don’t stop the music
Music is a powerful tool for healing, as recent research into music and dementia demonstrates. As a musician herself, Emily brings music and singing to each session, always including two or three songs for participants to sing along with. She’s experimented with singing rounds which create harmony for the group and they’ve even done some songwriting. One of the most popular workshops is ‘Sixties’ and even just hearing the title of a favourite song can instantly bring back the lyrics and tune for some people.
“It always amazes me when you see the power of music when working with people living with dementia.”
Emily is a busy woman! As well as her Bright Shadow work and keeping the Community choir going, she’s working on new music project called Aphrah. This is something she was working on pre-Pandemic and was awarded Arts Council funding in order to do so. She’s busy collaborating with new producers and writers in the industry and also carrying on her involvement with Music for Change
Thanks to another bit of funding, this time from Help Musicians Transmission fund Emily has also just finished a six month online music production course at Point Blank Music School something she’s very proud of having achieved during lockdown.
We couldn’t do this work with our amazing artists. Thank you so much to Emily and all the other talented people we are lucky enough to work with.
Photo of Emily: Natalie Dawkins
We have spaces in all our Zest Communities sessions as well as running 1-1 sessions and our Families Reunited program which connects loved ones unable to see each other due to care homes visiting restrictions.