Tag Archives: inclusion

The Inclusive Orchestra: relaxed performances

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

CLS prides itself on having a ‘seriously informal’ approach, which means we play high-quality music, but we think people should have the freedom to enjoy the concert as they please: grab a drink, use their phones, cough, or clap between movements. Our approach works and has grown in popularity. Young people (aged 16-25) made up a surprising proportion of our audience at our Modern Mystics concerts in autumn 2017 (25%).

We’re beginning to realise that this approach works well for anyone, including people living with dementia, who would enjoy having the freedom to get up, talk, clap, or enjoy a break in the quiet space outside the concert hall.

What makes a concert ‘dementia-friendly’?

I often get asked this question, and it’s not a complicated answer: it’s no different to a regular concert. When we are putting together a dementia-friendly concert, we are primarily focused on accessibility around the venue. Can audience members find the toilet, the café and the concert hall with relative ease? Is there a volunteer nearby who can answer questions?

In December 2017, we presented our first ‘dementia-friendly’ concert at St John’s Smith Square. In preparation for the performance, we sought answers from other like-minded organisations who already have experience engaging people living with dementia: The Alzheimer’s Society, Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, Dementia Friends, Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Academy of Art and The Young Vic.

One of the important steps was having The Alzheimer’s Society audit the concert venue. They showed us all the many ways we could improve access to St John’s Smith Square, and we were delighted by the sheer number of considerations. We were “delighted” because addressing the issues meant we could be more confident about promoting this concert as dementia-friendly. For example, some of the issues they discovered were dark patches on the floor, which, to some people, can appear as holes in the ground or wet patches. Likewise, colours on signs, the chairs and tables must be carefully selected so that the contrast is highest and objects can be differentiated more easily. Signs must also be clear in content and within line of sight as you navigate the venue.

Our team in the office and many of our musicians are trained as Dementia Friends. We’ve participated in a taster course to better understand the many kinds of dementias and how they can affect people in different ways. From losing memory, which is what most people associate with dementia, to visuo-spatial difficulties and emotional changes, there is no such thing as one dementia. We can’t recommend it highly enough to become a Dementia Friend, so that you can learn small ways to help other people.

How are we putting our learning into practice?

Our concerts should be as welcoming as possible. Our first dementia-friendly concert could have been better, as it was held in December, on a dark, windy and rainy evening. We have already considered some solutions, and so our next round of relaxed concerts will be held in CLS Minis in April 2018 – in a much warmer month, and during the day.

Performance dates:

All seating is unreserved. Tickets are just £5 at the CLS Box Office (online or by phone, 020 7621 2800) and the Albany Box Office (17 April only). Standard tickets are £10, and we offer a free companion seat for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility. Tickets will also be available on the door (subject to availability).

You can read more about our Relaxed Lunchtime Performances on Facebook and Twitter, or by visiting our website.


Following our first dementia-friendly concert in December 2017, Zak was given the opportunity to speak more about this and represent CLS at a British Council conference in South Korea. You can read more about his time there in our The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea blog post.

Zak on dementia-friendly concerts

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The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea

Written by Zak Hulstrom, CLS Development Manager

For one week in December 2017, I was lucky enough to travel to South Korea and represent CLS at a British Council conference focusing on ‘Creative Ageing’. It was part-funded by the Baring Foundation, who invited CLS because of our creative ways of engaging older people through music. Ten delegates from the UK, and many more from Korea, came together for a knowledge-sharing conference, to tell our stories and learn how each of us are involving older people in the arts.

Creative Ageing UK Delegates 2017
(There I am at the front, on the right)

Our orchestra’s first projects in care homes began in 1998, when CLS musicians started visiting residents of Jewish Care, performing concerts and developing relationships with older people through a person-centred approach. Over the years, these care home concerts have become so popular that we felt we could do more: we wanted to open our concerts to the public so that more people could attend classical music concerts.

For nearly 30 years, CLS has involved people of all ages and backgrounds in music activities as a way of improving wellbeing and enhancing quality of life. Our approach is one-of-a-kind because all 43 of our musicians lead and participate in workshops in children’s hospitals, hospices, schools and care homes, while at the same time performing innovative concerts at major London venues (e.g. St Paul’s Cathedral, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Opera Holland Park).

We are constantly thinking up new ways of tying our two most important strands together (artistic innovation and community involvement) so we were delighted to be invited to South Korea and share our experience of producing our first-ever dementia-friendly concert.

Highlights from the conference

On our first day in Seoul, we watched a variety show featuring groups of older people acting, dancing, singing, and playing handbells and handmade box instruments. The first act ended with 100 women in pink outfits pulling all the jetlagged UK delegates off their seats and into the middle of an impromptu dance party.

Dancing
(From left to right: Alice Thwaite, Equal Arts; Kate Duncan, City Arts Nottingham; Carol Rogers, Liverpool Museums)

The conference began on the second day with a plenary session entitled Why creative ageing? followed by themed sessions on ‘Arts and intergeneration’, ‘Arts and dementia’, and ‘Capacity building and training for catalysts’. The conference was followed by a series of roundtable discussions at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) the following day. Session topics included ‘Creative ageing programme developments at museums and galleries’, ‘Creative contents development’, and ‘Impact and evaluation’. Alongside the Seoul and Busan conferences, UK delegates Penny Allen and Diane Amans conducted dance workshops for teaching artists and older people.

My presentation was titled The Inclusive Orchestra and it told the story of how we break down barriers between music and our audiences. With success in attracting younger people over the past several years, we have started thinking about the barriers for older people to attend classical music performances, which led to our first-ever ‘dementia-friendly concert’ on 2 December 2017.

With support from our local Dementia Action Alliance, we provided Dementia Friends training to our musicians, encouraging a deeper understanding of the disease and the many ways it affects the brain (i.e. it’s not always about losing your memory; sensory perception can also be affected). The Alzheimer’s Society then performed an environmental audit of our concert venue, making sure that we considered better access routes into and around the space. Continue reading The Inclusive Orchestra: CLS visits South Korea