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27 July 2021

Magic Beans

Magic beans – also known as choir on call

I used to have two clean, empty baked bean cans connected by a length of string and by some Mum-Magic my Ma had me convinced it was a telephone and we could hear each other down it.

It was a kind of magic. Although we both knew we were just hearing the other person shouting and we knew it was just a piece of string and bean tin. Even though it was so ridiculous we could barely speak rendered helpless by laughter at the thought of it, we knew deep down some magic of communication was occurring.

Over the last few weeks I’ve reminisced about baked-bean-can-communication-magic a lot.

Since the start of COVID-19 ALONE and ourselves have been experimenting with ways to sing or explore song with older people who are at home, maybe without many visitors and without access to the internet. There are many reasons an older person may ring ALONE; they may need help with housing, finance, a social issue or they might like a volunteer to call or visit them. Lately, they may have been cocooning and needed support with getting food or medication. Cocooning meant older people where spending a lot more time in their homes with many feeling isolated and fed-up. We wondered how we might bring you a bit of fun into a week of Sundays?

This is where the magic bean tins came in. With the help of the very magical music teacher Lisa McGuinness and the wizard-like Sean Millar, we started Choir on Call. These are musical sessions once a week where people dial in to a conference call line to sing, talk about song, reminisce and see where it takes us.

ALONE asked their Support and Telephone Befrienders to ask the older person they regularly call if they would be interested in Choir on Call. If the individual expressed an interest in the singing, they will receive a follow-up call to explain the details and given a phone line number that they can call with an access code to join the choir. An ALONE member of staff will ring the day of the call as a gentle reminder, lyrics are also sent via post if people want to avail of them. Some want Edelweiss, someone else Elvis, the man from Carlow sang with his wife, the lady from Leitrim’s line keeps dropping out. We talk over each other and sometimes we sing in unison. Amidst the generosity, the listening and the giggling is something reminiscent “normal hour”.

Like the bean tins, we know it has some serious technical limitations. However, we are equally aware there’s some magic in that lifeline. It has been built from a willingness to try it, a little kindness and a lot of laughter.

ALONE were delighted to get some very excited and willing participants on board! It was a learning experience for both organisations and one we can build on.

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