Engaging people with dementia through music and art

Memory Spinners, Scottish Opera’s project designed to engage with people living with dementia through music and art, has begun.

Sessions are taking place at Glasgow’s St Columba’s Church and Holy Trinity Church Hall in St Andrews. Having launched in 2012, the sessions were put on hold for two years during the pandemic and this is the first time the groups have been able to come together since.

Scottish Opera believes, and indeed has shown, that engagement with music and the other art forms can help those living with dementia and their carers to stay positive, and take pleasure in some of the many aspects of engaging with the arts that bring happiness and fulfilment. This helps to alleviate feelings of anxiety and distress which this disease brings to
so many people’s lives.

It’s a common misconception that all people living with dementia can no longer learn new skills such as simple choreography, learning song words or creating art work.

A key aim for the programme is to create a relaxing and welcoming environment, where people can develop informal support networks as they get to know one and another. Each week, rehearsals and visual arts activities build towards a short performance inspired by the music, characters and storyline of a popular piece from the operatic repertoire to which friends and families are invited.

A team of artists and volunteers (some from other departments within Scottish Opera) are on hand to ensure that everyone can participate on an equal footing, including those with the diagnosis, as well as those who they share their lives with – as it’s vitally important that the carer is also free to focus on their own personal creativity and enjoyment. Over the years, many carers and family members have expressed how precious the opportunity to share the communal experience of creating a performance has been in maintain their relationship with their family member or friend, especially as the disease progresses.

Memory Spinners is all about celebrating the talents and abilities – existing and new – of the participants through their interaction with the various art forms and, most importantly, with each other.

Scottish Opera’s Memory Spinners is helping people with dementia (Photo: Sally Jubb)

Those who have taken part in Memory Spinners previously praised the sessions for having a fun, inclusive and encouraging atmosphere, saying they were great for making new friends, learning new creative skills and reducing feelings of isolation.

As well as being a positive experience for those living wit h dementia, carers felt the sessions gave them a much needed respite from caring. One carer described Memory Spinners as ‘one big happy family’, saying her aunt ‘changes into a much calmer and happier person’ when attending the sessions.

Jane Davidson, Scottish Opera’s Director of Education and Outreach said: ‘We are thrilled to be able to re-start our Glasgow Memory Spinners programme after two years’ absence due to Covid 19 protocols.

‘This was the first group with which we launched the project back in 2011, and as such, has always held a very special place in the hearts of the artists who lead the project.

‘We’re so looking forward to seeing some old friends as well as making many new ones. Music and laughter has always been at the core of the Memory Spinners project, and we hope that our cast of wonderful participants will enjoy spending time in the
company of operetta’s most delightful heroine, The Merry Widow – as she takes us on whirlwind trip through the glamourous, romantic and champagne sparking world of nineteenth century Vienna.’

The Memory Spinners programme is open to all with a diagnosis, no matter the stage, along with their family member or carer. New members are very welcome, and those interested in signing up can contact:

Memory Spinners is supported by RS Macdonald Charitable Trust, J McDonald Menzies Charitable Trust, Sylvia Aitken Charitable Trust and SO Education Angels.

Find our more at