Updated: Dec 13, 2019
The annual Alive at the Bluebird Benefit Concert was a huge success on January 4th, 2018.
Each year performing songwriters rally together to support the end of life and grief counseling work done by Alive Hospice, an organization that cares for terminally ill patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Their philosophy is that everyone deserves to leave this world in dignity and with respect, from the most wealthy to the poorest of the poor.
It is this mission that has been a unifying force in the greater Nashville community for over a quarter of a century, and will hopefully continue until there is no more need.
I participated in a round with Benita Hill (“Two Pina Coladas”) and Becky Hobbs (“Angels Among Us”), two of my favorite songwriters in the world.
We connected last year after their long time trio partner Kasey Jones died of cancer, and my dad Kim Williams (“Three Wooden Crosses”) and Richard Fagan (“Grundy County Auction”), who I normally share the round with, both also died in 2016.
On these events held in the first month of every year, a sacred stillness fills the Bluebird Café, as we three and the enraptured audience celebrate life and death and all that goes in between together.
This year was especially special, because of a song.
Years ago when I first started performing at these Alive Hospice benefits, I was curious to get involved more fully with the work, and volunteered to become a music therapy provider at Alive Hospice facilities.
At the risk of sounding corny, I can honestly say that the training Alive Hospice bestows on its volunteers is truly life changing.
One training exercise in particular was enormously influential in helping me understand what it might be like to be a terminally ill patient going through the stages in preparation for dying.
During the exercise, the facilitator has everyone write down the most important things in one’s life on little slips of paper. Some are material things, some are qualities of life, and some are loved ones and family members names.
The training takes volunteers through a visualized stage by stage progression that a patient goes through, from finding a medial issue, to diagnosis, to beginning to lose the ability to live alone and care for oneself as the disease gradually progresses.
At each stage, the volunteers are asked to give up a slip or two of their papers, representing a symbolic letting go of all that one holds precious and dear in life.
Toward the end of the exercise, the last few slips of paper remain, representing the very most important aspects of your life that you have carefully protected from relinquishing to the facilitator.
She comes around next, and instead of asking for what you are willing to give up; she takes.
In my case, the volunteer coordinator snatched up the slips of paper where I had written “music,” my most sacred gift to the world, and the names of my family.
Even though it was only paper, I began to cry, having put myself into that paper and allowed myself to feel the devastation I was being asked to experience.
Some time later, I wrote a song called “5 Things” with a collaborator Pete Garfinkel for his Songs of Substance project to commemorate this experience.
Before heading to the Bluebird, I had tried to print out the lyrics so I could read them when singing the song, since it’s so new I haven’t memorized them yet.
But the pesky printer just wouldn’t spit them out, and I was afraid of running late.
So I grabbed a legal pad and began writing the lyrics out by hand.
Two lines in, the stubborn printer unceremoniously spit out the delayed lyric print, and even though I had what I needed, something told me to keep hand writing the lyrics anyway.
Pete, my cowriter had flown up from Florida to attend the Bluebird Alive Hospice benefit with his wife, who was visiting Nashville for the first time.
After performing the song, I offered the hand written lyrics for auction to benefit Alive Hospice, and a couple in attendance generously offered $1000 donation for them.
Needless to say, I gave them the whole legal pad of paper instead of daring to tear the lyrics out and risk ripping them!
You too can help the work of Alive Hospice by supporting the Angels at Alive Hospice with your generous donation.
And thanks for respecting music by paying for the music you enjoy. The current digital streaming economy does little to compensate non-performing songwriters, and to earn just one dollar, a songwriter needs over 1000 streams.
Before streaming, a songwriter earned 9.1 cents per unit sold of downloads or CD sales, and buying a CD meant supporting the entire music community in Nashville.
Now our numbers have shrunk by over 80 percent in the past 15 years, and our incomes have shrunk by over 88%.
Don’t feel guilty about accessing music via free or paid streaming, but when you do love a particular artist or album, please consider spending the $10 or $15 of your hard earned money to purchase the entire album.
You may discover a hidden gem, and it truly means the difference between life or death to some of us right now.
Love and Light,
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