The first 10 weeks of The Swan Song Project
In May 2017 I began the first sessions for The Swan Song Project at Marie Curie Hospice Bradford. I had been developing this project for what seemed like a long time, about 18 months since initial idea so I was very excited about getting it underway. We’re now about 10 weeks in and I’ve done 24 sessions with about 14 different participants. Mostly I have worked 1 to 1, some songs are done in 1 session, and some have taken multiple, it’s been a pleasure for me to have that flexibility to work with the individual until they are happy with it. There are currently 8 songs on the website (www.swansongproject.co.uk), a few others have been kept private and I’m awaiting permission to share another 2 recently finished ones.
The response so far has been incredible. Every participant has really enjoyed the session and expressed great amounts of joy at the finished song. Every session has been unique, which makes them all hugely rewarding for me too, I haven’t use any pre-existing session plans or song writing formulas, every time I have established good rapport with the participants and done my best to respond to what they are telling me. I haven’t heard any of the feedback from the surveys the nurses have been doing yet so I look forward to hearing them. One of the aims was always the long term benefit of these songs in helping with the grieving process so there will be a lot more results to come over time. One of the inspirations for me in starting the project was thinking how much I would love to have a recording of my Gran singing with us before she died as she always loved the music and had an amazing response when we sang to her at the end of her life.
I have had several participants who have sang their song with me start to finish, (most of whom at the start of the session said they wouldn’t sing at all), a few where I have sang the whole thing and 2 participants so far who sang the whole song themselves. I have mainly worked with day hospice patients, I have worked with 3 separate in patients, one of them being a couple I worked with where the woman was an inpatient and her partner worked with me too, this technically being the first carer I have worked with. So far 1 song from the project has been played at a funeral, several others are said to be in the plans to be played and there was talk of one being played at a wedding.
The project is becoming more a part of the hospice now and more and more of the staff are becoming aware of it and have an understanding of what it is I’m doing. I think at first with it being such a new project a lot of people didn’t know what to expect and may have been a bit hesitant about getting involved but as it’s going on and the results are so good I feel interest and people’s enthusiasm to be involved is really growing. We are aiming to include a much broader range of hospice service users as we go forward and we have plans on how to engage more inpatients, carers, those receiving bereavement support and even staff. We also have ideas about fundraising cds and performances as part of the hospices current event plans and also independently. I also still aim to spread the project out to other hospices. Originally I planned to start at Marie Curie, St Gemma’s and Wheatfields all at once, It’s worked out nicely just starting at Marie Curie as it has given me a good opportunity to settle into the work in one environment and also to be as flexible as needed in regards to meeting participants. Starting all 3 at once I think would have been quite a challenge but now things are settling in so well at Marie Curie I am very confident It will be smoother for me to start at other hospices when possible.
I am incredibly pleased with the first couple of months of this project and am so excited to see how it grows. Participants are so open with me an even though a lot of the sessions are about really heartfelt emotional things we always have a good time and both leave feeling really positive. I have been asked a lot since starting it how I am managing it emotionally and the truthful answer (which is a pleasant surprise for me) is I’m doing fine. I thought this might be one of the biggest challenges and of course there have been lots of moving and emotional moments overall I’m hugely uplifted by the project. The joy we share in exploring the participant’s stories and ideas and shaping a song out of it is really unique and although there is sadness about, these moments trump them. Not one participant has wanted to write a sad song, the overwhelming theme from this project so far is one of people facing what most fear most with great integrity and strength and choosing to record a message of love and kindness. The whole hospice environment is a remarkable place in showing the strength and kindness of people and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.
Ben Buddy Slack
Founder/Faciltator of The Swan Song Project