This week is Dementia Action Week and to mark this occasion we are pleased to introduce Debra Skeen. One of the things Debra is known for is taking Music For The Brain into Nursing and Care Homes in Sussex as an aid to bring memories back. Debra has been kind enough to answer Purple Conversations questions about herself and what she does.
- Tell us a little of your background?
I trained as a clarinettist and classical singer in Scotland, dropping clarinet fairly quickly in favour of singing as Music College. Have sung professionally as a soloist and in Professional vocal groups for over 30 years now having toured the world and worked both on stage, on the concert platform and in the recording studio during that time.
Have taught privately for around 20 years and 5 years ago began singing in care homes in Buckinghamshire from whence I moved last year to East Sussex. For my full singing biography visit www.debraskeen.co.uk
- Why do you support Dementia as you do?
Whilst singing in the care homes I attended a Dementia Friends information session and became more interested in the impact music had on people Living With Dementia (LWD). I realised the power of music as therapy and on moving to East Sussex had the idea to create these Music for the Brain sessions and also became a Dementia Friend Champion enabling me to go out into the community and deliver the same session I had attended in the care home to anyone interested in finding out more about the disease. These are free, hour long sessions so anyone interested please contact me. Dementia Action Week is coming up so it’s an ideal opportunity to enrol your staff or your school for a session.
- Can you tell us what ‘Music for the Brain’ is?
Music for the Brain involves a different theme each month (most homes book me on a monthly basis) where we explore different ideas through song (songs from the shows, wartime, the seasons, food and drink, etc) and a quiz as we go. I also like to teach a new song as this stimulates that part of the memory which is not as badly affected (the same part which remembers music, dance, poetry and art) to make new connections, even if only for a short time. If appropriate I like to do songs involving some movement too even if only seated using the upper body.
I arrange all the songs myself as I accompany myself on the ukulele and do not use any amplification. It’s good to travel light!
- How do you find your bookings?
Currently I am doing lots of networking and asking for referrals as I have found that calling and emailing doesn’t work. It is important to see people face to face as they can get much more of a connection with me and a better feel of the passion I have for the way I work. In this way I have been able to secure a few homes and day care centres for regular bookings. It’s hard when you start out in a new area and nobody knows what you’re about so it takes time to build up a new business. It’s a slow burn I think but gradually picking up I’m happy to say, especially since there is so much now in the media about Dementia and the importance of stimulation.
- What areas do you cover?
I am based near Lewes and happily cover Eastbourne to Worthing and the semi-circle up to Tunbridge Wells.
- What other Strings to your Bow do you have?
I still sing as a soloist for special occasions – weddings, memorials and other celebrations. And I love teaching – I currently have a couple of singing pupils and a clarinet pupil – it’s good to keep your hand in! I will soon be starting a ukulele club after school for mums/dads and their kids to do together which should be great fun.
- What hobbies do you have when you have the time?
I love gardening as it’s so therapeutic and take on the occasional client to help out with weeding and light pruning ….
- How can people contact you?
Through my website at www.musicforthebrain.co.uk where you will find my email which is my preferred first choice of contact or via text or voicemail initially on 07710 548724
- What would you like your legacy to be?
I think it would be lovely to always bring a smile to people’s faces through music and be remembered as someone who really cares about making lives better.
My improved understanding of what it is like for people LWD has definitely made me more patient and understanding of people generally and that is something I hope to impart through the information sessions on dementia as well.
As a voice teacher I am passionate about making sure that people have a healthy voice and can continue singing well into their sunset years without difficulty.
- Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?
All being well I would love to spread the joy of Music for the Brain into as many care homes, day care centres and dementia cafes as there are in Sussex but that could mean spreading myself a bit too thinly! I’ll do what I can with the time I have and hope most of all to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Thank you Debra for agreeing to do this Q&A for us, it was a pleasure to meet you and we hope that this article helps to spread the word of the amazing work that you do.