The Music of Speech – Music in Mind

By Written by John McHugh, Music In Mind composer and Artistic Director
  • Place & Society
  • Youth and Education
  • Arts and Culture

How would music sound if it was taken from the intonations of speech to capture the natural sound of the Liverpool dialect, the hidden feelings of people living with dementia or the brave testimonies of those affected by domestic abuse? This is the sound of Music In Mind; a Liverpool City Region based charity and their unique model of giving a voice to the seldom heard, telling their stories in an honest and powerful way.

Their latest video opera: “Locked Away”, based on the reflective stories from the Covid 19 lockdowns, will premiere at The British Music Experience on the opening night of The Good Business Festival with an ensemble of musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.


“Music is everywhere”, says John McHugh, Music In Mind composer and Artistic Director. “There’s melody and rhythm in everything we say and the more emotional we become the more the melodies seem to sing. I initially began developing the idea in 2007 with ‘The Big Voice’ project to capture the changing sound of the “scouse’ accent. I quickly found however, that the technique of taking the melodies from people’s speech not only raised the everyday phrases to a poetic level but also communicated their message to the audience in a deeply moving and powerful way. It’s almost as if the music releases all the emotional DNA locked within the speech.”

Partnership work has been key to delivering successful projects.

This unique multimedia model has led to a whole series of large scale community projects over the past few years that have given voice to a range of important social issues including; dementia, equality, domestic abuse and even a piece with Regenda Homes about the aspirations of the people in Fleetwood as they embark on a new chapter in their history, moving from a rich fishing and industrial heritage to a new 10 year regeneration plan.

Partnership work has been key to delivering successful projects and Music In Mind collaborators have included Nugent, The Brain Charity, The Regenda Group, Safenet and The Calico Group. Recent projects have included the collaboration with Gazooky Studios and Immersive Interactive for St George’s Hall’s new immersive visitor attraction: ‘The History Whisperer’ and a composition for Dame Evelyn Glennie as part of the on going Hidden Voice dementia project. “I spent an hour interviewing comedian Paul Whitehouse about his mum who is living with dementia. He said such beautiful and profound things about her life as an opera singer, a teacher and a mother that I felt I had to set some of his thoughts to music. When I was talking to Evelyn about composing the new piece it made perfect sense to use the melodies from the Paul Whitehouse interview and create a 3 movement marimba piece for her”.

“There’s melody and rhythm in everything we say and the more emotional we become the more the melodies seem to sing.

“‘Locked Away’ has been 2 years in the making in collaboration with Regenda Homes”, says John. “We began by interviewing over 150 people on Zoom during the first lockdown and then moved to location filming with filmmaker Graeme Lycett and The Square One film crew as the restrictions eased. I then dissected the interviews to pull out the themes and the melodies within the speech. People spoke about a wide range of feelings: A lot of older people spoke about a sense of fear and isolation, young people spoke about losing their freedom and hopes for the future, teachers and parents expressed their worries about education and community leaders spoke about resilience. By far the most common theme however was the sense of togetherness, an appreciation of each other and a deep longing for fairness. I’m extremely excited to be presenting their thoughts to an audience with the musicians from the RLPO on the 22nd March.

March will also see Music In Mind present their long awaited “Like A Butterfly’ project that combines boxing and dance in a new dance theatre piece based on the inspirational life of Muhammad Ali. Gaynor McHugh, Creative Development Coordinator says: “We wanted to show the incredible artistry and sophistication within boxing, celebrate the inspirational achievements of Ali and attract new audiences and young people to the arts. We’ve created projects based on the rhythms of speech and we wanted to apply a similar technique to the rhythms of boxing.” ‘Like A Butterfly’ premieres at Pyramid Arts, Warrington on 19th March and makes its London debut at The Cockpit, Marleybone on Friday 25th March.



Find out more about this amazing Liverpool City Region charity by visiting their website:


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