Music is such a central part of Austin. Swan Songs is a local organization that embodies this piece of Austin, and turns it into something even greater by providing private concerts for those facing terminal illness and the end of life.
But Swan Songs offers more than a concert, as patients experience a meaningful and beautiful moment that gives joy.
Prelude to Swan Songs
The idea of Swan Songs was born in 1992, when Christine Albert was asked to sing at an intimate concert for someone facing a terminal illness. The man was in his early 40s and had a brain aneurysm. He couldn’t talk or communicate with his friends and family, but the music Albert performed that night gave everyone something they could share together.
An idea began to form in Albert’s mind: what if there was a way to facilitate these types of personal concerts for others facing terminal illnesses?
Around the same time, one of Albert’s friends, Gaea Logan, knew someone who was dealing with his own terminal illness and end of life. Logan also realized the need for providing music to those in hospice care. The two started a project that put together private concerts, but Albert ended up stepping away for several years to deal with life changes.
When she jumped back into the project in 2005, Albert wanted to make sure their organization compensated the artists they worked with. She also didn’t want patients or families paying for concerts. So she moved forward with creating a nonprofit called Swan Songs and built a board to ensure it ran smoothly. That was only the beginning.
Bringing Comfort to Those in Need
Think of Swan Songs as similar to Make A Wish, but with an Austin twist and for any age group. The organization receives more than one concert request a day, so team members are always organizing eight or nine concerts at a time. This requires a lot of scheduling. They need to coordinate with the healthcare team, the patient and family, any volunteers, and the musicians coming in.
One of the special things about Swan Songs is that patients request specific music. This allows the concert to resonate with them, taking them back to a healthier time. Because the music community in Austin is so deep and diverse, Swan Songs is able to work with a variety of artists–over 600!
Since its creation, Swan Songs has grown to have a fully transformed board and official employees on payroll. The organization has formalized its infrastructure and created processes to ensure each concert goes as smoothly as possible.
Special Type of Master Class
After Albert launched Swan Songs, she was invited to serve on the National Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy (which puts on a little show we know as the GRAMMY Awards). She told me it was like a master class for her own work. She attended every meeting eager to take notes and see what she could take back to running her own board at Swan Songs.
Eventually, Albert became Chairman of the Board, one of only two females to ever hold the position. While she travels to Los Angeles on a monthly basis to work with the Recording Academy, she knows the experience is meant to energize Swan Songs.
Volunteering With Swan Songs
Each private concert facilitated by Swan Songs requires a volunteer liaison. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer has to go through an interview and shadow two liaisons before they’re able to work on their own.
Some of the tasks volunteer liasons can expect to handle include:
- Communicating and checking in with the musician 24 hours before the concert
- Attending the concert as a representative of Swan Songs
- Writing a report and narrative afterward
There are also administrative and event volunteer roles available, but volunteer liaison are needed most. Currently, there is a need for more volunteers with availability during weekdays and in north Austin.
Anyone interested in volunteering can apply here.
Swan Songs Serenade and Other Events
In 2011, Swan Songs hosted its first annual Swan Songs Serenade with Jerry Jeff Walker at the Gibson Showroom downtown. Swan Songs Serenade is a night of community and music, when anyone interested in Swan Songs can give back to the program and help it continue working within Austin. This beautiful event has grown so much since 2011 that it’s moved into the Four Seasons Hotel Austin for 2019.
Attendees can expect a night of fun mixed with philanthropy. Sponsors will have their own VIP session and time to meet artists who work with Swan Song. There is both a silent auction and live auction, with proceeds going back to give comfort to those dealing with terminal illnesses. Serenade also offers a seated dinner and concert with a special artist.
Albert told me this night is always spirited, a fun celebration of what everyone is doing to help with the organization’s mission. She also said that, while she can talk all day long about what Swan Songs does, the event really helps people understand what an impact the organization makes. Each year, Swan Songs shares a presentation with images of past concerts and the expressions of those in attendance. You can purchase tickets here.
Swan Songs also puts on an event every summer called Remember and Reflect. This event allows everyone to come together through music, poetry, ritual, and contemplation to celebrate the memory of those they’ve loved and lost. A virtual memorial wall holds images of loved ones.
For more information, visit swansongs.org.
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