Playful People Making Change

SUSSEX & London

Summer in Japan!

We are so happy to share that news of Soundcastle has travelled as far as Japan over the last month!

Photo Credit: Shu Tomioka

We were delighted to host Sohei Ide, a Senior Feature Writer from Kyodo News to our People’s Music programme in Sussex. He flew in from Tokyo specifically to take part in a session with the People’s Music Collective, our flagship band who compose and perform their own brand new music.

They work inclusively together, breaking down stigma and barriers between mental health and the arts. Sohei was accompanied by the highly respected photographer Shu Tomioka – who was able to add our very own PMC to his portfolio of rock legends such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck!


The subsequent article has now been released across Japan to more than 20 newspapers. The article in the photo is from Chunichi Shimbun, a regional newspaper around the city of Nagoya which alone has a daily circulation of more than 1.8 million readers!

Check out the translation of the article below and let’s all keep sharing the power of music making across the world!

Supporting Recovery from Mental Illness through Music

Trevor, who lives in Sussex, southern England, was taken by surprise by his first mental health crisis. He had worked for many years for BMW, the German luxury car manufacturer, and was so highly regarded for his skills that he taught apprentices and technicians.

He had no history of mental illness, but after this incident, he “fell into a complete fear of other people”. He was hospitalized at a psychiatric hospital, and it took two and a half months for him to be discharged. While continuing his hospital visits, his doctor recommended that he join a self-help group through music in 2018. A group of musicians had just started up, and although it had not been in existence long, it was developing a good reputation. “I was initially reluctant to join the group because I couldn’t play any musical instruments, but I was persuaded that I could learn how to play from scratch.”

He attended a meeting at a community center in Shoreham-by-Sea. Even those who could not play any instruments at all were taught the basics, and then learned to make sounds by watching, exploring and playing.

Hannah Dunster, 38, a founding member of Soundcastle, the charity that runs the group, says, “The important thing is not how well you play, but that everyone is included and creates a piece of music together. It’s important to feel like you have your own part to play.”

Trevor gradually learned to play the bass guitar, found his singing voice and joined in the performances. He continues to go every week and says, “The people here are like family and they saved my life. I feel like I belong here.” Before attending, he was a recluse, but “now I feel like my old self again. I stopped thinking about what I lost and started appreciating what I still have.”

In mid-January 2023, about 10 people, including Trevor, gathered at a session held at the same location. The venue was furnished with a variety of instruments, including guitars, violins, ocarinas, brought in by members of Soundcastle.

Gail MacLeod (38), who facilitated the day, began by saying, “It’s wonderful just to have you all here today.”

Before the performance began, a unique warm-up called a “sound bath” was held. Participants form a circle, and those who wish to participate take turns sitting in the center.

Everyone sings “aah” in various pitches as if they were singing to the person sitting in the center. When the participants close their eyes, they feel as if they are being bathed in a shower of sound, which is strangely calming.

The group is divided into three groups, one for each instructor, and each takes up his or her specialty instrument. At first, they produced disparate sounds that could hardly be called music, but the instructor played a melody, and gradually the sounds became one.

The closing song was “A Better World,” which was written by everyone. Most of the participants put down their instruments and sang in chorus.

“A better world for all the human race / A better you, a better me / Just open your eyes and see.”

Elizabeth, who has been attending every week for about five years, says, “I am proud of the work we have all created together”. She has suffered from depression for many years, but did not like the feeling of taking medication, so she tried various folk remedies, including medicinal herbs. But the most effective, she recalls, was joining this group.

The degree of recovery varies from person to person. One woman who has been coming to the group for about three years has a slight tremor that does not stop while she speaks, and her gaze tends to wander. However, she says, “I feel safe here. I want to expand my experience here to the outside world.

The four women, including Hannah and Gail, founded Soundcastle in 2012 after meeting at a music graduate school in London.

According to Hannah, the four women decided not to become professional performers but to form a charitable organisation because “all four of us had encountered mental health issues at some point, either ourselves or in people we care about” she said. “At that time, we wanted to help others in the same way that we were helped by music”.

The group now operates with private donations and public grants, while working with local partnerships. Music therapy is gradually spreading in the world of psychiatry. However, their activities differ from conventional music therapy in that they do not involve doctors or clinical psychologists.

“We are musicians, not therapists, but that’s why participants can forget their mental illnesses, even if only for a moment,” says Hannah. In what she calls “a little corner of society no one knows about,” songs for a better future echo through the air.
Photo Credit: Shu Tomioka
Photo Credit: Shu Tomioka
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