Starling Song is a song-writing project investigating locality and connecting older people across West Cork. ‘When this project really works, songs created by participants become part of their folk-song repertoire at the care centres. The new songs are being held with as much importance and esteem as the traditional songs that are part of the fabric of their identity and culture.’
The first phase of The Starling Song Project took place in 2012 led by Liz Clark, an experienced song-writer and musician, with the participation of Tess Leak, a visual artist with a significant interest in found text. The artists collaborated with six groups of older people over a four-week period to compose and record an original song. Working conceptually together, the artists discussed stories and experiences connected to the locality with participants. These exchanges stimulated ideas and influenced the development of melodies and lyrics to create a collection of original songs.
During the initial phase, the first sessions began with a predetermined theme to stimulate discussion; for example, working lives, local culture/dances, community, emigration. These themes encouraged conversation and the brainstorming of ideas. Provocative questions encouraged contemplation and an emotional response as opposed to a factual one. Melodies were explored and agreed amongst the group and the outcomes translated into song format by the artist/s. By the third session, participants were reflecting on their lyrics and the artists were fine-tuning the format until the group was content with their creation and felt that it truly reflected their ideas. The final version of the song was learnt by the participants who sang their creation as a group.
‘We wanted everyone to connect and have a sense of pride in accomplishing a musical piece. Also we wanted participants to feel easy about sharing their stories, knowing that they will work into a format that we can all sing together’, said artist Liz Clark.
The final session combined the recording of the finished song with a celebration of the project and each group was presented with a framed copy of the finished lyrics. The artists performed the songs at several different celebratory events, including National Music Day Ireland’s love:live music celebration on Friday 21 June 2012 at Skibbereen Community Hospital which was attended by families and the wider community.
2013 presented an opportunity for developing the project both creatively and practically with five new groups, two repeat groups and the addition of hospital settings. The new theme ‘Where in the world is the most beautiful place?’ is inspired by a poem written with participants in Castletownbere Hospital as part of the Arts for Health partnership programme. For implementation in the hospitals, Tess and Liz have developed a different method of song-building from bed to bed which took place over eight weeks. The artists collated different responses to a common theme, with one conversation travelling throughout the hospital. The artists will then worked the ideas through together before travelling the song-in-progress from participant to participant the following week.
A number of challenges were presented to the artists during the project; for instance, honouring the importance of factual information about the locality for the participants whilst also creating a song with both meaningful and rhyming lyrics. The need to create a lot of songs in a short period led to the exploration of a poetic style, with Tess creating original poetry with the participants and presenting the lyrics as poems. This approach aided deeper conversations and themes evolved into songs.
For the participants too there were a number of challenges to overcome such as low confidence in arts participation. Hesitancy was apparent at the outset. One healthcare professional stated: ‘Quite often when I discuss an art project proposal with our service users they would tell me that that is “over their heads”, saying “I’m no good at that sort of thing”.’ The fact that Starling Song was part of the larger Arts for Health programme gave the group co-ordinator confidence in trusting the artists and encouraging participants’ involvement. Once involved, a few found sharing memories a little emotional; however, this emotion transpired positively in their song writing.
Update: The staff involved in the project have formed a band with Liz Clark and with permission from the residents are sharing the music to a wider audience, both thtrought the healthcare settings and the wider community, taking part in festivals and musical, healthcare events discussingthe project and sharing the music. The band are now creating new music as a result of this wider community exchange, and playing it back in the hospitals. You can follow their progress on the facebook page
The first phase of the project began in 2012 with seven groups of older people across five day care centres. The second phase continuing into 2013 with a further seven groups. It has since blossomed and the Starling Band has been formed with four healthcare professionals from Clonakilty, playing live in the community.
‘You didn’t have to be good at anything to take part.’ ‘It was a great way of expressing emotions, achievements and sometimes regrets of the past’ ‘Genius, for connecting my words into a song.’
‘It was a project where everyone had a story to tell and that is why it was so inclusive. As the Day Care Co-ordinator I learned a lot about the individuals’
‘I am absolutely overwhelmed by the positive feedback … [the project] was very inclusive, clients with memory loss could still participate … Looking forward to more!’- Phil Murphy, Castletownbere Day Care Co-ordinator
Liz Clark’s online blog about the project can be viewed here: http://starlingsongproject.tumblr.com/