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Composer strikes a chord with people living with dementia

15 December 2016
20 soundtracks signal times and days of the week

A University of Sydney student and composer, Cyrus Meurant, has collaborated with an Australian aged-care facility on a unique recording project that will be music to the ears of dementia sufferers.

Cyrus Meurant, composer and Sydney Conservatorium of Music alumnus and PhD student.

Cyrus Meurant, composer and Sydney Conservatorium of Music alumnus and PhD student.

The project was commissioned by Beaumont Care, which operates four residences in Brisbane including one of the largest specialist dementia care facilities in Australia.

A Sydney Conservatorium of Music alumnus and PhD candidate, Meurant was asked to produce a series of soundtracks to play at particular times of the day around meal times and overnight, and for different days of the week.

Beaumont Care proprietor Linda Beaumont says her motivation for the project was driven by the well-recognised benefits of music for dementia patients and an increasing shift towards diversional therapy.

“We have residents with varying stages of dementia and have seen the immediate and profound effect music has on a person’s mood and how it triggers their sensors. There have been cases where music has had a reawakening effect on people with advanced stages of dementia.

“We wanted to bring more music into our facilities to help create a mood and an air of familiarity for residents to enhance their quality of life,” said Linda Beaumont.

Meurant says he approached the project much the same way he tackles all his composition pieces. “Whether I am writing music for dance, theatre or a concert hall, my approach is always the same – to compose with emotion. This project was no different. It was about creating music that focuses the mind and engages the senses,” he said.

“There is an interesting correlation between musical structures and the physiological reaction to music in humans. This is what made Beethoven’s work aesthetically and artistically successful, which can have measurable physiological effects on the brain,” said Cyrus Meurant.

The findings will contribute to a growing body of research that looks at the effect music has on the brain.
Linda Beaumont

It is a known fact that the part of the brain that uses musical memory is only impacted in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In view of this evidence, this is the first time music has been composed for an aged-care facility with dementia patients in mind.

“Typically, when patients listen to music it is from their past, so it is familiar. We are now trialing their reaction to music that they have never heard before. The findings will contribute to a growing body of research that looks at the effect music has on the brain,” said Linda Beaumont.

Meurant’s final body of work comprises 20 classical music tracks that have been recorded on a new CD titled Monday to Friday. From ambient and lyrical tunes to old-time waltzes and dynamic new music, four different movements have been written for each weekday, featuring the melodic sounds of the piano, flute, viola and vibraphone.

“While I am a composer first and foremost, the project gave me the great opportunity to work in a unique area of cross-disciplinary research between neuroscience and music. During the process of creating this work, I was constantly reminded that the act of listening to and engaging with music is a fundamental human need for health and wellbeing,” added Cyrus Meurant.

“Cyrus Meurant is on an exciting career path. We are delighted that he has returned to further his study and to work with some of the best composers in the country at the Con,” said Professor Matthew Hindson AM, Sydney Conservatorium of Music Deputy Head of School, Deputy Dean and Associate Dean (Education) and renowned Australian composer.

Monday to Friday is performed by leading Australian musicians including flautist Sally Walker and violist Sascha Bota from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, percussionist Alison Pratt from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, and pianist Clemens Leske from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The recording was carried out at the Sydney Conservatorium, led by acclaimed classical music sound engineer and recordist Bob Scott. The CD will be available in selected Sydney specialist music shops for Christmas.

Mandy Campbell

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Tuesday I (Morning) composed and performed by Cyrus Meurant

LISTEN: Tuesday 1

Tuesday I (Morning)

Composer: Cyrus Meurant

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