Try this: Type “music is…” into your favorite search engine and you’re probably seeing suggestions like “my life”, “my best friend” and “my savior”.
This illustrates how important music is to most of us. Listening to the right beat, a catchy melody or touching vocals can lift us up, provide comfort or give us the energy to make it to the finish line – in sports and at work.
British singer-songwriter Beatie Wolfe has been researching the healing powers of melodies for the mind in her Music & Dementia project. Inspired by neurologist Oliver Sacks and his book Musicophelia – Tales of Music and the Brain, Wolfe started giving private concerts to her grandmother who had been diagnosed with dementia.
“Afterwards I would get letters from the carers saying that she’d been so much better the days after the music”, Wolfe recalled at DLD Summer 2015 when she first presented the results of her own project. Supported by the Utley Foundation, a charitable trust, the singer had performed at nursing homes throughout the U.K. – showing that music could significantly benefit patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Wolfe’s work sparked the interest of Stanford and Oxford universities as well as the American Alzheimer’s Association. It also resulted in the creation of a charity, Music For Dementia 2020, which aims to make music readily available for everyone living with dementia in Britain by next year.
“Seeing the incredible impact, I felt there was a responsibility to take the project further”, Wolfe says today. And while she’s busy pursuing new avenues as an artist, she remains committed to being a vocal ambassador for the advancement of music and dementia research. Her hope is to bring policymakers and health-care providers to pay more attention to the topic – far beyond the U.K. “I’m trying to spread the message and make this much more commonplace”, Wolfe says.
In her new, weekly radio show called Orange Juice for the Ears the 31-year-old singer is exploring the power of music on a more personal level. In each episode (also available as a podcast), Wolfe talks to her guests about songs and artists that have impacted them throughout their lives.
“Music is a universal connector”, Wolfe tells DLD. “It encompasses everything that is stimulating to us.”
Her guests have included Emmy-winning writer and producer Donick Cary (The Simpsons, Parks & Recreation, Silicon Valley), artist manager Janet Billig Rich and Nobel Laureate Dr. Robert Wilson. The astronomer previously collaborated with Wolfe on her Raw Space project, helping her to beam her music into the vastness of the universe via the historic Bell Labs Holmdel Horn Antenna.
Wolfe is known for her love of experimentation. For her debut album she created an interactive app with 3D effects, lyrics and liner notes. NFC chips brought her second album to life: Wolfe designed a tailored suit – a literal album jacket – for her music, and listeners could tap their phones on the NFC chips woven into the fabric to play select songs. Most recently, Raw Space, her third album, was released as “the world’s first live 360° AR experience”.
While she’s busy exploring the creative possibilities of new technologies, there’s also a longing for the past in Wolfe’s experiments. “Growing up, I was completely obsessed with art and storytelling in any form”, she says. But as CDs gave way to downloads, and playlists on streaming services replaced the concept of albums she felt dismayed. “By the time I grew up a lot of what I loved was made irrelevant. The tangible had been replaced by digital.”
Wolfe’s answer has been to adopt technology to “figure out what could be the best of both worlds” because she’s eager to show that music deserves to be more than “a kind of background noise” – even if songs are permanently raining down from the Cloud these days, thanks to Spotify, YouTube, Deezer, Pandora and many other services.
“For me it’s about raising the bar”, Wolfe says. “Everything I’m doing is about reminding people how music can go beyond entertainment.”
A new documentary which chronicles her quest will debut in October. At the same time Wolfe is working on her newest project, a visualization of the CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere. “It’s part music video and part protest song”, she says. “And entirely interactive.” Stay tuned.