Movement and music

Today we all know the importance of keeping fit and moving around at any age. As usually Royal Voluntary Service have a history of pioneering activities for older people before they become popular. In the 1970s WRVS was pioneering Music and Movement classes in local communities One WRVS volunteer who helped with this was Elizabeth Kay. In 2014 I interviewed her for the oral history project Voices of Volunteering. Elizabeth had first joined WVS in the late 1960s to be a speaker giving talks about Drugs, volunteering helped her develop this skill and she gave talks on many other topics which also led to  training as a keep fit instructor skills she used to help WRVS set up local Music and Movement classes in Hounslow. This is Elizabeth’s story in her own words:

“I gave a talk on history of nursery rhymes, and most people didn’t know how nursery rhymes started and why. Oh, and I’d talk about tortoises because my son had a tortoise which I was looking after, again people didn’t know about tortoises and how they were creatures of veneration. When I was in China I went to see this enormous marble tortoise which was a symbol of longevity. So yes as, I did find giving those talks were very interesting and because my husband had died I had to make an income from somewhere and so that’s what I did.

It [WRVS] gave me more that, it gave me more than just, mm, learning to do the drug talks, it gave me a feeling that people liked to listen. … While I was in the WRVS I decided because I was a keep fit teacher, I thought these old people sitting all day in chairs not talking to anybody, long before local authority had started, which they do now, and movement classes.

I went to our local care home and asked the matron there if she’d like me to go in and, and do some musical movement. And so, and I used all the old songs that they knew. Some of them I had to learn, I didn’t know there was a song called He Played His Ukulele As The Ship Went Down,  and I got the songs from these old, I say ‘old people’, I mean heavens some of them are younger than I am now. But, but they were and they sat all day and they did nothing, and so I felt that this was a really good idea. And so I, I went and we used these songs that they knew and we did actions to the songs. Now it’s done, local authorities are doing this all over, but at that time it was quite revolutionary and nobody had done that.

 …

I always wore my uniform and as you can see one or two of them are actually lifting their arms but they used to like singing the songs as well.

That was actually breaking new ground because it hadn’t been done until then. I had a woman who played the piano for me and I went to all kinds of old people’s clubs and she played the piano and I did the movements, mm, and it was, that was then sponsored by the local authority.  

One of them [the Matrons in one of the homes] apologised to me because I used to go in to this particularly [home], if they sit in their living room, the social room, in chairs all around because I used to say ‘Don’t put them in rows, I like them all round me’ because I work to every single one, which I do. And every week when I used to go in one woman used to get up from her chair, look at me and say ‘Stupid cow’ and walk out. And matron said ‘I’m so sorry’. I said ‘Look, if that’s the only exercise she gets all week it’s exercise, don’t worry, she’s moved’.

It was, it was so satisfying because I felt that the, they just loved having somebody to be with them and do these and think about how it used to be when they were young, the songs that they could sing. And we used some wartime songs as well. And before, as I say, I never knew there was a song entitled Three Pots a Shilling which is about a gypsy selling honey from door to door. And I learnt these, I actually looked them up.  I went to Charing Cross Road to the, the archive shop there and looked up all these songs and bought the music so that my pianist could play them for me. And it was great. And then sadly Greta, who was much older, was not able to do the playing anymore and so another, another lady took over and she didn’t need music at all, and it was lovely because she used to play for my keep fit classes.” 

Elizabeth Kay WVS/WRVS Volunteer July 2016
Stories from volunteers really helps to tell the story of Royal Voluntary Service and how volunteering has benefited society in many ways. If you would like to hear Elizabeth’s story or those of many other volunteers in full you can visit Archive Online and search our Voices of Volunteering oral history collection.

You can also listen to the story above on SoundCloud


The second image in this week's blog is taken from WRVS Magazine No.371 December 1970

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 27 August 2018.

Labels: Keep Fit, Music, Movement, older people, WRVS, WVS

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