John Morcom runs St Luke’s popular music therapy sessions for elderly people with memory issues. John is a musician who has studied music and music therapy, graduating from university in November last year.

What is your background in Music?

I have always been interested in music from a young age. I was born in the UK but grew up in Holland and Malaysia which opened my eyes for different cultures, including culture with different music. I have always done a bit of song writing and playing musical instruments like piano and guitar, but also other instruments. While working as a music teacher in schools I saw the impact music had on some of the students with disabilities I taught. This is what led me to discover music therapy, and undertake my training at guildhall as a psychodynamic music therapist. In my final year of training I was at St Luke's on placement with Sylvia Saunders as my supervisor, who I am now covering for while she is on maternity leave.

What type of music do you play?

I am quite an all-rounder really and play a lot of different things, but my preference is to play a bit of jazz, folk music and blues, also some avant-garde stuff. I also like playing with other musicians, being spontaneous and improvising as you go along. I like improvising in music.

The music therapy is one of the most popular activities that takes place at St Luke’s. Why do you think music therapy is good for people?

Music can really get to the core of someone and help them connect with others, and connecting is what the group is all about. Music therapy sessions at St Luke’s are for older people, many who have started to be a bit forgetful. The group consists of up to 15 people. We have developed a St Luke’s Song Book. People in the group add songs to the book that we sing. The group are all from different cultures and backgrounds, and music and singing together really brings the group together, they really get to know each other. Some of the songs get to be associated with a specific person, who would tell the group what the song means to them, the song becomes part of their identity in the group. New people to the group bring different songs to the group, so that Song Book is always growing. Sometimes we play new songs, older songs and to their surprise people often realise that they remember the lyrics.

Due to the current lockdown, the group cannot meet at St Luke’s, but you have continued to have contact with the group by telephone. How did you come up with the idea to contact people for a sing-a-long song?

I originally sent a video with me singing a few songs, but not all members could access this over the internet. It was clear to me that I would have to adapt the work and think in new ways to keep the group spirit going, so I decided to try phone calls with the ten members, ringing half of the group each Friday around the time we would normally have our session. Since then I've been checking in with them, making sure they have everything they need, and also singing a song or two together over the phone. Naturally, being self-isolated which the members are, they feel isolated and frustrated by the situation, which we have had lots of chats about. Music can lift the mood, but it can also help with opening up and reflecting, which is very important for mental health. It has suprised me how well everything works over the phone, but I am also looking forward to starting back with the group at St Luke’s when we are able to leave lockdown.

If you were left on a deserted island – what music would you take with you? 

That is a good question and a very difficult one. I will have to think about that one. I don’t think I can name a specific song or album, but I think I would have to bring something a bit jazzy and something a bit rocky.

Which song will you remember as the covid-19/lockdown song? 

Fast car by Tracy Chapman. I have been playing this song on my guitar quite often during this period. I think it symbolise the period we are in. The song is about wanting to be free, get away to another place in the car – to be free and far away.

You can listen to the song here:

Thank you for answering our questions, John! If any of our members would like to join the music therapy group please contact the Over 55s Team on 020 7549 8191.