SongPath’s founder, Jess Dandy was born and brought up in Barrow. She went on to read languages at Cambridge, where, through being a member of Trinity College Choir, she developed a passion for singing, which led her to undertake postgraduate qualifications and a fellowship at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. She is now a professional contralto, and divides her time between Cumbria, London & touring internationally. She says:
“The impetus for SongPath came in November 2016 when I had to come home from London to deal with some very challenging mental health issues. Diagnosed with severe anxiety & depression, I was unable to listen to music, let alone make it. I felt I had lost everything. I received outstanding care from the NHS Crisis Team and Community Mental Health Assessment and Recovery Team, as well as an inpouring of unconditional love, kindness and patience from my family, friends and community I’ll never be able to repay fully. I spent a lot of time walking in the deep time landscapes of the Lake District and South Cumbria and this brought me back to a semblance of reality, one in which I could breathe, recalibrate and begin to piece back together what had so spectacularly fragmented in London. I am convinced that I could not have recovered without putting one foot in front of the other, with others and helped by others.
One evening in May, I wandered into the kitchen and felt able to sing again; it seemed as though something had finally shifted. I tentatively put my toe back in the water and joined local choral societies. Here, I was really struck by the power of community and music-making not predicated on competition or unforgiving professional standards. I was really humbled and touched by how much local choirs and groups provided support and structure for people, whilst creating something that could bring such joy & energy to performers & audiences alike.
I decided to explore the notion of a musical journey, combining and promoting my two great loves to raise money and awareness for the mental health charity Mind. As a freelance musician, it seems I am not alone. A Help Musicians UK study, completed by the University of Westminster, investigated 2,211 musicians, 71.1 per cent of whom said they had suffered from panic attacks or anxiety, with 68.5 per cent saying they had struggled with depression.
This initiative however is not solely directed towards musicians; nor is it purely musical in form. Musician or not, one in four of us will experience mental health difficulties at some point in our own lives – and everyone will have friends, family and colleagues who do. Music, the poetry of the songs we sing & walking in nature, draw musicians and non-musicians alike deep down into the condition of what it means to be alive in the world and the healing power of connecting to that condition.”