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Far-Off Sounds

These concerts have a special magic about them: Ensemble Resonanz plays for dementia sufferers and their families. A report.

A concert like this is like Christmas for me.

It’s a very special concert that brings people together in the Laeiszhalle Recital Hall on the Tuesday before Christmas: many of the 80 or so guests suffer from dementia.

For most of them, being here is something out of the ordinary. Some of them can still walk, while others are confined to a wheelchair. Many of them have come in the company of family or carers. Full of expectation, they have taken up position in the first rows in front of the brightly-lit stage.

A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF MAGIC

The musicians have spread out around the audience and they gently play the Christmas tune »Es ist ein Ros entsprungen«, which wanders slowly from the auditorium on to the stage.

Birdcalls played on violins, flutes or bare hands warble through the room. This concert has its own very special kind of magic.

Music and dance is still there. We can go on doing that for a long time.

The Elbphilharmonie concert series »Ferne Klänge« (Far-Off Sounds) is aimed at dementia patients and their families. Dementia is one of the great challenges facing our ageing society. In Germany alone there are more than 1.5 million people whose memory is failing: they start to forget experiences, feelings, familiar places and people; they can’t remember how to speak, how to clean their teeth and lace up their shoes, and often enough they can’t even remember themselves.

STILL TAKING PART IN LIFE

»Many dementia sufferers still want to take part in cultural events and public life, to go to a concert for example, without being stigmatised«, thus Anke Fischer from the Elbphilharmonie’s education team.

»We want to give these people the chance to enjoy concerts and deal freely with their illness. They can move around and speak freely here: everyone can just be him- or herself.«

SOUNDS THAT BRING BACK MEMORIES

At this concert a few days before Christmas, the musicians play catchy works from early baroque and the Renaissance, interspersed with folk songs and Christmas carols. Sounds and melodies are often the best way to reach someone’s subconscious and to touch on memories that seemed lost.

Here, everyone can just be him- or herself.

It’s really nice and relaxing here, especially with the birdsong at the beginning. I’ve never heard anything like it in a concert before.

»We’ve found an ideal location for these concerts in the Laeiszhalle Recital Hall«, says the Elbphilharmonie’s Anke Fischer. »Many Hamburg residents have fond memories of the Laeiszhalle, and some music lovers have been coming here all their lives. There is wheelchair access, the size of the audience is deliberately small, and the Recital Hall with its intimate atmosphere offers a sheltered setting.«

In this concert, too, there were moments that reached far into the subconscious. When the ensemble struck up the closing piece »Kling, Glöckchen, Klingelingeling«, many concert-goers sang along to all three verses, forgetting their illness for a moment. »A concert like this is like Christmas for me«, one person said at the end.

David Schlage, violist in Ensemble Resonanz
David Schlage, violist in Ensemble Resonanz © Claudia Höhne

DAVID SCHLAGE, VIOLA PLAYER IN ENSEMBLE RESONANZ, ANSWERS THREE QUESTIONS

How does an ensemble approach a concert of this kind? Do you play as you would in any concert?

No, we obviously want to include the audience. It’s fine in the »For-Off Sounds« concerts for people to talk during the music, and it’s alright if they want to sing or hum along, or if they stand up.

It’s important to us to create an atmosphere where everyone feels at ease. That’s why we play a lot of catchy pieces, including well-known Christmas carols in this case. It’s interesting that our concerts for babies follow a similar principle. You notice how life comes full circle.

How do the people in the audience respond to your music?

After the concert I often mingle with the audience: that’s the best way to get an impression. I’ve experienced a lot of positive reactions. One lady told me recently that she felt completely enveloped by the music.

Do these concerts give anything to you as a musician?

Absolutely. They are something special for us as well. I find it very fulfilling to do something for people who are unable to attend a »normal« concert.

We’ve found an ideal location for these concerts in the Laeiszhalle Recital Hall

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