I first met cellist Dr Claire Garabedian at a wonderful musical evening where three internationally renowned opera singers performed The Audition, a piece written for audiences of older people and those with dementia in various care settings.
She spoke then of the powerful communication – the dialogue, conversation, connection – between the performers and audience members. It seems to me that throughout her extraordinary life my guest, who was born and raised in America, has been connecting and inspiring people through music.
Dr Garabedian has played with modern and Baroque orchestras in the USA, Japan and the UK, and chamber music with many of the world’s greatest musicians. She’s also played her cello in the most intimate of settings, at the bedside of individuals who are dying.
And it was while doing the latter that she experienced at first hand what she describes as the “raw, intense realness of death and dying – and a purpose for playing music that is entirely separate from performing”.
Fired up by this, she enrolled in an American course using music as a transitional healing force and qualified as a Certified Music Practitioner, enabling her to play her cello at the bedside of people in palliative care in hospitals, hospices or their own homes.
Relocating to Scotland in 2007, she discovered that Certified Music Practitioners are not recognised over here but undaunted she completed an enhanced palliative care course at the University of Stirling which led her ultimately to studying for a PhD in Sociology, exploring the effects of playing familiar music on a solo cello on the relationship between two listeners: a care home resident with dementia in palliative care and someone closely connected to them. Which I have to say, sounds like music to my ears if you’ll excuse the very clumsy pun!
Dr Garabedian then became a Researcher of creative arts and dementia at the University of Worcester, during which time she gave presentations at national and international conferences, trained those wonderful specialist dementia nurses called Admiral Nurses, conducted workshops, evaluations and research on various aspects of music and dementia and made several media appearances.
She now combines her quite brilliant talents, experience and knowledge to provide services for all sorts of people, from those with health conditions including dementia to their families and carers, to those who are nearing the end of life, to students and, really – as far as I can make out – anyone interested in exploring the use of music to support and connect us all. You can see why I was keen to have her as my guest.
One of Claire’s musical colleagues said that she was a top-notch musician put on the planet use “the vibrations of music for healing and love” and I couldn’t agree more. Dr Garabedian is indeed a top-notch and very lovely connector of individuals through not just her music but her passion for its healing powers.