New PhD partnership. Introducing: Katherine Blumer.

Over the past 8 years, we’ve developed a fantastic relationship with our good neighbours The University Of Manchester.

Cementing this partnership is an exciting new ESRC CASE Studentship, which will see Katherine Blumer complete a Master’s in Research and PhD on the impact of music-making on people living with dementia.

The Studentship is a collaboration between the School of Health Sciences, the Music Department, Creative Manchester and ourselves, and will see Katherine work across each of these organisations, as well as with the Salford Institute for Dementia. It’s a unique opportunity that bridges the gap between academia and the creative industries, and it represents an exciting new stage of our partnership with the University of Manchester.

We asked the Professor of Older People’s Mental Health Nursing, John Keady about the studentship:

“This ESRC CASE PhD studentship (Health and Wellbeing pathway) is a fantastic opportunity to continue our collaboration with Manchester Camerata and their inspiring Music in Mind programme for people living with dementia. Together, we are building a research programme that focuses on moments and what it means to be ‘in the moment’. Creative music-making by people living with dementia is the ideal vehicle to enable this experience to shine through, especially when language skills may be compromised; it is a privilege to do this work and to be in this partnership.”

To find out more about Katherine and the exciting work on her horizon, we sent her some questions.

Manchester Camerata: Katherine it’s lovely to meet you! Could you tell our readers a little more about yourself?

Katherine Blumer: My main background is in music – I completed my undergraduate degree at Manchester University, focusing on community music. I then worked as a freelance community musician and performer for two years, before going to Leeds University for my Master’s degree in Music and Wellbeing. Music is such a powerful tool for communication and facilitation, and I have loved working in the field to date. The main impetus for focusing research on the field of music and dementia was through playing a part in organising Manchester University’s relaxed concert series: these were wonderful events set up so that people who may require additional support could attend a concert and were the highlight of my university years!

MC : Could you tell us a bit about your PHD?

KB: Working in conjunction with Manchester Camerata’s Music in Mind programme, the University of Manchester and the University of Salford, the PhD aims to review the impact of music-making with people living with dementia, using an ‘in the moment’ immersive framework to track positive effects, rather than a commonly-used assessment where differences between before and after the music session are evaluated. The objective is to create and document a continuum of ‘moments’ within a session, to be able to highlight more subtle benefits of music for people living with dementia, using this framework as a means for reflection and contextualisation. This research is based on Dr Robyn Dowlen’s amazing PhD work also examining Manchester Camerata’s Music in Mind programme.   

MC: What are you most excited about in your project?

KB: I’m really excited to be able to see the Music in Mind sessions and see how improvisatory music making is incorporated within the sessions! The videos and testimonials taken from the sessions are wonderful and so lovely to see: I can’t wait to be able to be a part of such an exciting project for the next four years and to meet all the lovely people who take part in the sessions.

MC: What are you looking forward to most about working with Manchester Camerata?

KB: The work that Manchester Camerata have been doing with people living with dementia is so inspiring. I have seen first-hand how music can make people’s faces light up, can encourage someone to dance, can help with eye contact and, most amazingly, can transport people to another time or place. In these difficult Covid times, creating human connections becomes even more important! Manchester Camerata has such an inspiring community music department, and it will be an incredible chance to learn from the facilitators of the Music in Mind programme; their work is so exciting and I love how the sessions are so carefully supported to allow the participants living with dementia to thrive in the improvisatory music setting.  

MC: What’s special about the partnership between the University and Manchester Camerata? What unique opportunities does it create for people like yourself?  

KB: The opportunity to study on the CASE Studentship programme is so unusual and exciting, to be working between effectively four institutions in total: two different faculties at the University of Manchester, the Salford Institute for Dementia and Manchester Camerata. It is a unique chance to learn from and meet a diverse range of people with so many different specialisms and interests. The opportunity to work between such a strong and exciting research institution in collaboration with a world-renowned orchestra with an amazing community music programme is so rare, and I am looking forward to taking every opportunity from both sides over the next four years!

MC: What music are you listening to at the moment?

KB: It’s been a bit of an eclectic mix over this third lockdown – I’ve been listening to a range of music, primarily feel-good music from the 80s and 90s! I’m also currently preparing for a clarinet recital as part of my master’s programme, so have been listening to some new clarinet music for inspiration. A particular favourite is Svante Henryson’s ‘Off Pist’ written for clarinet and cello – a perfect folky duo!

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