The Swan Song Project is a charity which gives people living with terminal illnesses or dealing with bereavement the opportunity and support to write and record their own original song. I wanted to find out more about the great service provided and what people could expect if they got involved.
Here is an abridged version of our conversation from 2nd March 2021.
Deby: What is your connection to Leeds – the greatest city in the world?
Ben: I’m born and bred in Leeds. I grew up in Meanwood, lived most of my life in Meanwood, never went away really. I went to Uni in Leeds, for one year, then I dropped out. I was studying criminology. I was going to be a police officer. I did enjoy the criminology and I did like that career path. But it couldn’t compete with being a musician.
Deby: Tell me a bit about how you started the project.
Ben: I started it in 2017, after my grandma died. Granny would sing with us, this old Irish lady. I’ve got lots of nice memories of singing with my grandma. And then after she died, looking back and thinking, I wish she had recorded some of that and we had her voice singing along with us. The Swan Song Project was designed on the idea of how nice it would be to have her voice recorded singing some old songs that she used to love. Then I thought, imagine how even more special it would be if she’d written a song herself. And what kind of things would she have said in it, all those nice memories. My grandma had real character and used to come with funny sayings like she used to call me ‘Benji Bumblebee’. I wondered if I could help people approaching the end of their lives to write and record a song that their family members can have and enjoy after they’ve passed. This naturally evolved into working with all kinds of people who are terminally ill themselves.
One of the hospices I work with asked if I’d be interested in writing a song with someone who had just lost their mum. It’s proved to be really powerful as a way of processing grief. It gives people a chance to look back on on their loved one’s life and create something permanent and comforting in their memory.
It’s now probably about 50/50 split in terms of creating songs for bereavement and for the terminally ill.
Deby: Bereavement? Are they writing a song to remember the person that died, is that it?
Ben: Yeah, yeah, to remember someone or to honour someone. We don’t impose any restrictions on what’s written – the process is very organic. Whatever is going to be most helpful to them, a lot of times the bereavement songs might be telling an aspect of someone’s story or it might be their happy memories. It’s a nice way of processing grief by reflecting on who that person was, while creating something beautiful and unique.
I’m very interested in where songs live. Songs don’t really live on a CD or on a record. When you’ve heard a song, you might only hear it once, but it can stay with you forever. That’s what I feel that with these songs, it’s like a bit of that person you can carry along with you wherever you are. And when you sing that song you can feel like they are with you.
Deby: I suppose you can sing their song in your head anytime to cheer you up a bit and make you remember somebody in a really positive way.
Ben: People play them a lot on anniversaries and birthdays. There’s a nice musical family who wrote a song with their mum at St. Gemma’s Hospice. Whenever they ever get together, they always do a rendition of the song. That’s the kind of stuff that I’m really happy about.
There are people who we worked with at the start whose family members are still in touch and still listen to the songs. If my grandma had written her song, I’d still listen to it and share it for years to come.
The Swan Song Project is looking to make its service available to more organisations across England.
During the pandemic we made our service available virtually which means we can now make it available to more people all across the country.
If you work for a hospice, hospital, cancer or bereavement support organisation or any other organisation that works with terminally ill or bereaved people and would be interested in working with us we would love to hear from you.
Our service is free of charge and we are flexible with our approach to ensure the best experience for everyone we work with.