Care home concerts offer 'music with love'

Filming one of the care home concerts in Jennie Muskett's Highgate studio

Filming one of the care home concerts in Jennie Muskett's Highgate studio - Credit: Jennie Muskett

Composer Jennie Muskett was devastated when Covid restrictions meant she couldn't visit her father in his Hampstead care home.

93-year-old Michael Muskett had been a clarinet player before suffering from dementia and she had chosen his Finchley Road home because it was "full of music".

Clarinet player Michael Muskett took up the Hurdy-gurdy later in life and is now in a care home which puts music at the...

Clarinet player Michael Muskett took up the Hurdy-gurdy later in life and is now in a care home which puts music at the heart of their activities - Credit: Jennie Muskett

Heartbroken that their regular music festival was cancelled, she started organising virtual Wednesday afternoon concerts beamed into Springdene's three North London homes - performed by top players who were unable to work.

Music With Love holds their 28th concert on March 17 with Highgate actor Simon Callow performing a poem and pianist Andrew West playing Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Simon Callow is Sergey Diaghilev in Russian Voices-The Lightning Conductor by Matthew Hurt part of H

Simon Callow reads a poem at the next Music With Love concert - Credit: Nigel Sutton

"My dad has been a musician all his life and I chose the home because they were passionate about the arts and put music at the heart of their activities," she said. "But when Covid happened, the care home became a desert and it was heart breaking not seeing him. It's been so traumatic. He is blind and when there was an outbreak everyone had to be isolated in their room for weeks."

Jennie, an Emmy winning and Bafta nominated TV and film composer, knew many musicians had been "desperate because they can't perform". She called in friends such as violinist Virginia Slater to play for Springdene's elderly residents.

"The first concert was literally from a living room with a cot in the background, we put it on a big screen but realised the quality on Zoom is terrible."

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So she started inviting musicians to record YouTube concerts under Covid-safe protocols from her home studio in Highgate.

"Three of us - Nick Cohen, a bass player who usually works at Ronnie Scott's, and a drummer friend as cameraman - have made sure they are good quality, with the most fantastic musicians who would normally be really busy playing the Barbican or Wigmore Hall giving their time for free."

Many are based locally; Simon Blendis leader of the London Mozart Players, Highgate cellist Sally Pendlebury, pianist Katya Apekisheva, and Hampstead Garden Suburb cellist Robert Max have all taken part.

JW3-LJCC Holocaust Memorial DayRicital by Robert Max

Hampstead Garden Suburb cellist Robert Max has taken part in the concerts - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Jennie was recently able to visit her dad and hold his hand.

"I played him a Crumhorn Quartet and he engaged with every note with an extraordinary focus - for people with dementia it's almost magic the way that it can release memories. Sometimes, you can say things very simply in music, which reach deep inside people, and touch them in a way that words simply cannot do. Musicians talk about how much that means to them. They are playing from the heart and you feel it at the deepest level."

The concerts are free - although donations are encouraged - and music lovers who were shielding have enjoyed them.

"There was one who dressed up for the concert and wrote sweetly after about how it had uplifted her general wellbeing," says Jennie who is keen to reach more care homes.

"They've been hard to contact because they are busy keeping people alive but we don't know how long this is going to last and I passionately want as many people in care homes and anyone feeling lonely at home, to enjoy the benefit of these concerts."