Norwich

My first archive visit was to the archives of the County Asylum in Norwich. This is a particularly rich collection. In his book on the asylum, Steven Cherry mentions the band that was set up in the 1860s, and in 2006 Radio 4 broadcast a programme looking more closely at some of the music that has survived.

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The archives yielded a lot of information about the musical activities in the asylum from the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition to the band, which played for dances and special occasions, the asylum chapel held an organ and a choir was formed to lead services. It seems music was an important part of the recreational activities on offer to the patients, primarily to alleviate the boredom of asylum life. Along with other forms of recreation, and employment for many patients, music formed part of the general ‘moral’ therapy aimed to restore order to an inmate’s life. Unfortunately the asylum’s officers wrote little about the specifically therapeutic effects of music, and it doesn’t seem as if it was used to treat particular disorders or patients. Musical activity was primarily passive: the band was formed of attendants, and only on occasion are there references to patients actually taking part in musical activity.

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We are fortunate that a large amount of music from the Norwich asylum survives, rescued as the asylum was being closed down and currently in the possession of David Juritz, a professional violinist who had presented the Radio 4 programme. I was grateful to be able to take a look at just a small proportion of the collection, which mainly stems from the early twentieth century and comprises music suitable for dances and light concerts: arrangements of popular opera and operetta, waltzes, marches and foxtrots. The band clearly had an extensive repertoire and a reasonable amount of skill.

Asylum Sounds: Music and its uses in British Asylums during the Nineteenth Century

I am beginning my project by looking at the role of music within asylums. Was music used as a therapy, and if so, how? What were the social and recreational roles of music within a closed institution? What does this tell us about music’s place in society, and in medicine? I am undertaking archive research at a number of centres around the UK, supported by funding from the Wellcome Trust.

I am hoping that my work will not only be of historical interest, but will speak to anyone involved or interested in music as a therapy (in the widest sense) today.