Health:Pitch performers connect through music.

This year, many more people have (sadly) come to understand what it is to feel alone, anxious and stressed.

With theatres closed and concerts cancelled, the sense of isolation and loneliness that arises when you cannot escape the constraints of your day-to-day situation is felt keenly across all age groups and sectors of society.

More and more people have also become acutely aware that access to arts and culture makes life more enjoyable, and in some cases, more bearable.

One of the few positives of this ‘lived experience’ is that we no longer have to explain why we do what we do at Health:Pitch – we can move the conversation to the ‘how can we do it’.

What does the science say?

Since the early days of our charity, we have known that connecting through high-quality musical theatre engagement, in our case with operatic singers – always with light humour that resonates with the audience - helps people. We've seen the smiles in the rooms. We’ve heard the wonderful feedback. And, at every step, we remain guided by the science.

On 16th July, an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) seminar live-streamed on YouTube, hosted by Arts & Health South West for experts across the health and care sectors, focused on how the arts can support health and wellbeing, especially for those who are – or who feel – the most marginalised.

As reported in a previous blog, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2019 scoping review outlined the health benefits of the arts. “Arts interventions can help improve health and wellbeing, contribute to the prevention of a variety of mental and physical illnesses and support in the treatment or management of acute and chronic conditions arising across the life-course.”

The WHO findings continued: “The beneficial impact of the arts could be furthered through acknowledging and acting on the growing evidence base; promoting arts engagement at the individual, local and national levels; and supporting cross-sector collaboration.”

Music has the power to move us.

Cross-sector collaboration to improve access to high-quality arts for those suffering

That is precisely what we strive to achieve at Health:Pitch – cross-sector collaboration to connect through the arts at all levels.

“Let’s work together,” says Camilla Vickers, Health:Pitch founder and co-director. "I understand people's urge to try to guard their patch, but with broader horizons and a generosity of spirit, we can collaborate to reach more people. And if we can inspire collaboration, then together, perhaps we can reach more people higher up in the systems, the policymakers and decision-makers."

Health:Pitch performances, which blend international-quality opera and musical theatre with the essential ingredient of humour, are staged in the same way no matter who is in the audience.

"There is always the same exceptional quality – in the music, performance and everything that goes with it,” explains Camilla. “We would never dumb down what we do thereby patronising, even if with good intentions, our different audiences; people often don't realise that. Plus, our high-quality approach goes beyond the musical engagement. It is also an integral part of the way Health:Pitch performers interact and engage with the audience, whoever and where ever they are.”

Beyond the performances, the connection counts.

Again, the science agrees.

In his 2014 work, Older People and Culture, Mark Miers, a science journalist based in Holland, concluded that social interaction has a hugely beneficial impact. “A series of solid scientific studies are unanimous on the influence of active participation in dance, theatre, music and visual arts. When you experience something together (it) has a bonding effect.”

“Listening to and enjoying high-quality arts is wonderful,” says Camilla. “Feeling part of the performance and feeling the performers are connecting with you personally – that will blow your socks off.”

Innovation through high-quality arts

We know because we have witnessed it repeatedly, that if you touch souls, you can move minds. So, we want to take the conversation about innovating through high-quality arts, which are accessible to all, to those in the position to allocate budgets and assign time. By convincing them of the need to provide high-quality arts for those in their care, and the staff who look after them, we can affect real and lasting change.

“We realise that there is no money to stage Health:Pitch-style shows, with internationally trained performers (who we pay fairly) every week,” Camilla stresses. “But in addition to regular events, why not schedule something extraordinary once or twice a year? Let's raise the bar of the quality of entertainment and engagement on offer."

Camilla and the Health:Pitch team are aware that achieving our aims hinges largely on convincing those in positions to affect – and fund – change. This challenge will be easier, if we can show evidence that high-quality arts provision can result in cost savings in the long term, with reduced staff absence, lower staff turnover rates, and less mental and physical health intervention required in the health and social care sectors.

The evidence base to support this approach is growing.

Mark Mieras found that: The macro-economic question of how we will finance health care and humanitarian questions about quality of life are closely linked, because happy people are, on average, healthier and more independent. This co-relation is well-founded in science, and so is the relationship between cultural and social activities, and mental and physical vitality. Ageing, it appears, has less influence on people who stay actively involved in fascinating, challenging activities.”

“When Francesca and the other Health:Pitch performers sing – boy! You are transported," says Camilla. "You forget what you are doing and feeling. They get you involved in the performance, and you are lifted, freed from your particular constraints."

Now more than ever, people need high-quality arts in their lives. Can you help us to make that happen?

Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about Health:Pitch, our performances, our approach and how you can collaborate with us.

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  • SianLewis

Health:Pitch performers share the joy of 'The Audition' with customers at One Housing Group's Protheroe House, in Tottenham, London.

Health:Pitch has grown incredibly quickly, and we believe that our partners are instrumental to this success, and to our continued development.

As we innovate in health and social care through music, we connect with people who can help us achieve our vision.

Why are partnerships so important?

“You cannot achieve this on your own,” explains Health:Pitch co-founder and director Camilla Vickers. “In so many ways, it is such a fight. You have to grow your strength through solid partnerships to grow the energy together.”

Since Camilla set up Davina’s Fund, the precursor to Health:Pitch in 2015, in honour of her mother, she has partnered with people who share her generosity of spirit, who are keen to try anything to share high-quality arts with diverse audiences in different settings.

Today, we celebrate one of those partnerships, with Linda Kelly, the One Housing Group's customer partnerships manager.

As with many Health:Pitch partnerships, it started quite by chance…

"In 2017, we offered an activity co-ordinator in a One Housing service an afternoon of free opera," says Camilla. "Her response was, 'I'm not interested in opera, but as it's free – yes'. Obviously, we blew their socks off!"

Linda's colleague was wowed by 6 Characters in Search of an Opera, one of Health:Pitch’s first performances, Linda got in touch.

What makes a great partnership?

For us, a good partner understands our customers and is approachable,” says Linda Kelly. “We want to work with a partner who has the same ethos, who is flexible and collaborative. As we are so limited in our funding the value-added projects cannot be accessed, so we also need a partner who can bring their own funding.”

Linda, and One Housing, offered very practical support to Health:Pitch from the start. To save on the cost of hiring rehearsal space, Linda invited the performers to rehearse in One Housing services. In return, One Housing customers at a senior living centre were treated to the final dress rehearsal.

"We had lovely reactions from the people, including staff, who heard us rehearse," says Camilla. "There was one lady who never really spoke. She would sit outside the door as we rehearsed, and we could hear her humming, which was incredibly moving."

“Our customers and staff are still talking about the performances and wanting Health:Pitch to come back,” continues Linda. “The most important part of Health:Pitch is the smiles on customers faces.”

Forging strong, long-lasting partnerships, as with One Housing, helps on a more strategic level too. As we develop our mission to integrate opera and health and social care, our team benefits from working with partners who are open to trying new things, who are full of ideas and willing to share.

We work with partners who share our ethos and values. We also seek partners with different skills sets, knowledge of diverse environments and a willingness to navigate between sectors.

"Understandably, some organisations are protectionist, guarding their patch and wary of sharing the limited funding available," says Camilla. "We don't seek to compete; we work collaboratively to grow ourselves and to amplify the work of our partners."

“The most important part of Health:Pitch is the smiles on customers faces.” Linda Kelly, customer partnerships manager at One Housing.

The value of partnerships

For Linda Kelly and One Housing, the right partnerships are vital on many levels. “Partners are invaluable in a sector like ours,” Linda explains. “They bring value-added projects that enrich the lives of our customers. Not only our customers but also our staff; for a short while it takes them out of the mundane, and they see our customers in a different light.”

“Beyond the immediate, working with a partner like Health:Pitch inspires and supports us, it also opens doors to other partners and, like the branches of a tree, partnerships grow and develop.”

Would you like to find out more about becoming a Health:Pitch partner? Please get in touch.

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Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Health:Pitch Italy perform in a care home near Turin. L-R Francesca Lanza, Laura Vattano, Ivanna Speranza

The Woman who spoke for the first time in months is the first of many glorious stories the Health:Pitch soprano Francesca Lanza shared after a series of concerts in Italian care homes near her home.

Yes, please be reassured – this is a good news story. And, don’t we all need to hear and read more of those at the moment.

“There was another lady, who looked like she really was not interested while we plugged in cables and set up our keyboard, which is super rubbish,” says Francesca. “Then when Ivanna started to sing this lady’s face broke into a big smile and her eyes came alive. She started singing really softly, saying, ‘Brava, Brava, Brava, over and over again.’ That is Italian for very good. It was a great beginning.”

A new chapter for Health:Pitch

That’s what these concerts are, on many levels - a fresh beginning. In Italian care homes visits, albeit adhering to strict social distancing rules, are allowed once more. Unable to reunite with her Health:Pitch performers in the UK, Francesca has found a new way to take live performance to people who have been starved of contact for months. Meet Health:Pitch Italy; a new chapter for Health:Pitch and another example of the team finding creative ways to use the operatic voice to connect.

Francesca is performing with her regular colleagues: Italian-Argentinian soprano Ivanna Speranza and Laura Vattano playing piano – which is in fact the ‘super rubbish’ keyboard Francesca described, but from which Laura conjures music that lifts spirits for care home residents and their carers alike.

And, after just three live performances the verdict from audience members, care home staff and the three performers is unanimous. The sound of the human voice singing opera reaches deep into people’s hearts and souls, awakening joy.

Singing not speaking

“One of the care homes, for people with dementia, had a garden, and I was able to walk around it while singing,” says Francecsa. “One man sitting reading a book did not want to talk, but when I came near him singing, he looked at me. He moved in rhythm to the music. Language was not his way to connect, but with the sound of my operatic voice we were able to communicate in a different way.”

“That is why we do this.”

“Lockdown has been really hard on these people,” explains Francesca. “The exchange with them is incredibly powerful. That is why we do this.”

Of course digital connections help while face-to-face contact is impossible but performing live brings the power of personal interactions, always the essence of Health:Pitch’s work. When the trio perform in care home gardens, they can see people able to enjoy the performance on their balconies as the music floats up to them.

The 95-year-old poet performs

During and after their performances, Francesca, Ivana and Laura talk to their audience, share stories and, perhaps most importantly, they listen. Which is how they met the 95-year-old poet. His life has been rich in stories; he spent two years between 1943 and 1945 hiding in the mountains with partisans. Now he writes a poem every day. Laura had an idea – she would improvise a piano accompaniment for him while he took over the microphone to share his poetry with fellow residents.

“It was amazingly powerful,” says Francesca. “Both for the other residents and for us. With these performances we can talk to people, we can get to know them, and we can receive art from them in return. You cannot get that in a normal concert hall.”

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©Health:Pitch 2020

Health Pitch operates as a distinct fund within the Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action (CIVA), registered UK charity 1122095.