SONGS FOR LIFE
And now, one of YG2D’s newest programs is Songs for Life, a program created to further support YG2D’s mission – to bring people creatively into the conversation of death and dying, while helping to inspire and empower them out of the context of unabashedly confronting loss and mortality – a healing mission that I believe not only spiritually attends to our communal grief, but one that also necessarily acknowledges our need to cultivate legacy before we die, to remind us that spaces will be held for us when we transition into ancestry, to keep us connected to the living when we join those that have died before us. Songs for Life also helps bridge the gap between the sick or dying and the majority of us who aren’t, curating musicians and their songs inspired by the lives and deaths of hospice patients into the communal access points of the live events series.
Songs for Life is a hospice volunteer program where musicians offer their talents at the end of life, playing music and writing songs for hospice patients and their communities. The musicians not only play music for the patients, but write original songs, instrumental or with lyrics, inspired by their relationships with the patients and their lives, honoring them musically before and after their deaths. It’s designed to create meaning at the end of life while at the same time bridging the gap between the dying/dead and the living, using music to accompany the end of life while simultaneously creating a musical legacy to share with the world.
According to VITAS Healthcare, the nation’s largest provider of end-of-life care, almost half of the patients seeking hospice care are those with cancer. And from my own five-year experience as a hospice volunteer, far over half of the patients for whom I volunteer are dying from cancer. The statistics of low-income families and minority groups are defined uniquely by each hospice program involved, but most Bay Area hospice programs not only declare commitment to serving all demographics in need, but they work with people and their families to ensure they get services, even if they don’t have insurance.
The hospice volunteer training is the starting point of the program. Through my own personal hospice volunteer work and YG2D’s relationships with several Bay Area hospices, several possible hospice options are available through which to implement the program. One Bay Area hospice would consider Songs for Life a “community resource” and we would work with the project concerning training content and time commitments necessary. Since the musicians are not “hospice volunteers,” but instead a community resource, they would not need to abide by all the Medicare regulations involved with training. There could be 4-6 hours of training topics including: hospice philosophy, the hospice clinical team, HIPAA and confidentiality, communication, family dynamics, hospice diagnosis and what to expect at end of life, and any other topic that felt necessary by the musicians. The goal would be to keep the training hours as minimal as possible considering the many necessary hours the entire program would require of the musicians.
The first musicians dedicated to starting the program are Chelsea Coleman, Scott Ferreter and Morgan Bolender. Chelsea and Scott are the two musicians who help co-facilitate the open mikes every month, playing songs and encouraging opening. For years all three musicians have been attendees, performers, and advocates for YG2D, but most recently their commitment to the movement was solidified by their membership on our nonprofit board. And recently, all three of them performed to an audience of 500 at our biggest show to date – YG2D Presents YOU’RE ALIVE at the Great American Music Hall.
After training, the musicians will get to know patients by regularly meeting with them and their communities, ultimately creating original songs honoring these relationships. Ultimately, local live concerts will be held for the sick, dying, or dead, and their family and friends, where musicians participating in the project will perform their original work in honor of their patients. These concerts will raise money to put back into the project, for the hospice programs that care for the patients and the artists. As an additional fundraiser opportunity, the songs will be recorded and compiled for online download, with all proceeds going to the project, artists, hospice and maybe even families of the dead and dying who may be in need of financial support. The YG2D live events series currently has the monthly venue and audience attendance to showcase the artists’ work. With six musicians involved in the first year it would mean at least six hospice patients and their communities impacted by this program, not to mention the participating hospice programs and hospice workers. Additionally, each concert will have as many as 250 attendees. We’ll evaluate the results qualitatively through feedback forms, online and off, for musicians, the show audiences, the patients, and their communities (especially those people the musicians have contact with) measuring impact in the lives connected to the patients, for those who attend the live shows and of course for those present for the more private music sessions offered to the patient and their communities.
The bigger goal here is to help create meaning during a time when meaning-making is most difficult. The intention is to help further bridge the gap between the living (the majority of us who aren't confronted by sickness and death on a daily basis) and the dying, in inspiring, powerful ways, through sharing the music and the stories of these musicians and their patients with the world. The project's focus is to have our dead and dying treated as we hope to be. How can you face your own inevitable death in a culture where the sick, dying and dead aren't honored powerfully, publicly, or indefinitely?