The gift of a swan­song

Song­writer Ben Slack has been work­ing with Marie Curie to help ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients com­pose and share a spe­cial song about their life

YOURS (UK) - - Real Life - By Katharine Wootton

When Ben Slack’s grandma was at the end of her life in 2014, the one thing that brought her joy was mu­sic. “Gran al­ways loved to hear me and my un­cle play mu­sic and would sing along. And at the end, when de­men­tia had left her un­re­spon­sive to ev­ery­thing else, she had this amaz­ing re­ac­tion when we played her favourite song as she lit up and started tap­ping her fin­gers,” says Ben.

Af­ter Ben’s gran passed away, the fam­ily talked about how spe­cial that mo­ment had been and he won­dered if he could bring this magic of mu­sic to other peo­ple. That’s when he came up with the Swan Song Project, which he now runs at hos­pices in­clud­ing his lo­cal Marie Curie hospice in Brad­ford. Here he works with ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients to help them com­pose and record their own song about their lives. “Al­though the process is com­pletely unique for ev­ery per­son, I start by get­ting to know them and ask about the things that mat­ter to them to work out what they could write about.”

A com­mon theme many peo­ple choose for their song is fam­ily, ei­ther ex­press­ing their grat­i­tude or telling their chil­dren how proud they are. “Some peo­ple tell me they can say things in a song they’d strug­gle to say face-to-face,” says Ben. “It’s such a priv­i­lege to do this as I find peo­ple are so brave. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing too

‘Some peo­ple tell me they can say things in a song that they’d strug­gle to say faceto-face. It’s such a priv­i­lege to help them’

when peo­ple come into the ses­sion with no idea what to do and then come up with these re­ally spe­cial phrases or sto­ries.

“Ear­lier this year, I was work­ing with a man and we said we thought the cho­rus he’d writ­ten would re­ally suit a choir. So at the next ses­sion, he brought his two young chil­dren in and they sang the cho­rus – it was so lovely and spe­cial.”

Once a song is com­posed, Ben then records and cre­ates CDs of it, which pa­tients can lis­ten back to and give to fam­ily and friends. Some pa­tients also agree to share their song on Ben’s web­site, swan­song­pro­ so oth­ers can en­joy it.

“Of­ten peo­ple are sur­prised at what they’ve come up with and it’s a great sense of achieve­ment for them, es­pe­cially for those who think they’re not par­tic­u­larly cre­ative or mu­si­cal.”

There’s also the great legacy this song leaves. “I’ve heard some lovely sto­ries about fam­ily mem­bers singing the songs of their loved ones long af­ter they’ve passed away. I also find the songs re­ally stay with me; that’s quite spe­cial to think the close fam­ily and me are the only ones that know this song.”

Now Ben just wants to help more peo­ple ac­cess a love of mu­sic at the most chal­leng­ing mo­ments of their lives by tak­ing the Swan Song project to other hos­pices and set­ting up hospice choirs.

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