“One lady who had not spoken since the start of lockdown spoke again when she heard us sing”
Updated: Oct 1
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.”