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Legacy Song Project aims to celebrate those at the end of life

Applications will be accepted until May 17 for participants interested in Sarah McInnis's album and documentary to commemorate memories through song
Sarah McInnis, founder of the Legacy Song Project

A Nova Scotia music therapist is looking for volunteers for a remarkable music project.

Sarah McInnis is searching for participants to help her complete the Atlantic Chapter of her Legacy Song Project, an intimate creative venture geared to celebrate people or loved ones dealing with death.

“The idea is to (interview) four people who have lost loved ones and four people who are at end-of-life coming from all over the Maritimes,” says McInnis.

Designed to “honour, reflect on, and preserve the memory of a loved one in an original song”, the Legacy Song Project is calling on participants — particularly those who are living with a life-limiting illness or in the late stages of life — to apply for an opportunity to be part of the initiative.

“The special thing about this is that I’ve received funding from Arts Nova Scotia and Canada Council for the Arts, so I am actually able to hire a videographer to work with me on these interviews,” adds McInnis. “So he will be filming the interviews, and the idea from there is that I take the content from the conversation to write and record personal songs for each of these participants.”

McInnis will compile those songs onto an album with hopes that when she performs the Legacy Project in-person, they will be accompanied by a documentary film based from the interviews.

“I’ve been songwriting for the majority of my life — since I was about 14 or 15 years old, and like many songwriters do, I use songs to express things that I might not be able to put into words otherwise, or to just say or speak,” explains McInnis about how the project began.

McInnis notes when her own grandmother passed away in 2018, it was particularly difficult for her.

“I certainly was leaning on songs to help me process that loss,” says McInnis. Her grandmother was a big influence musically, and was part of the reason McInnis moved to Nova Scotia from Peterborough, Ontario to study music therapy. “(So) when I graduated from school, I kind of had it in my head to maybe do the same thing for other people using songs.”

Soon, McInnis was introduced to a California-based songwriter and former palliative care nurse who mentored her on how to write songs for people dealing with the loss of a loved one or at end-of-life themselves, and "I took that and ran with it,” admits McInnis.

She has already enrolled the necessary volunteers to cover the quartet of songs about people dealing with loss of a loved one, but McInnis is still in need of submissions for people who are nearing end-of-life themselves.

Once she has found all of her subjects, she will interview the individuals and write songs based on their lives and experiences, with an expected release of a compilation album in late 2022 or early 2023.

“People don’t require musical experience and people don’t need to be musicians to participate,” adds McInnis. “All they have to do is be willing to sit and tell me their stories, so there is certainly an element of being willing to share and talk about some funny and challenging (events), and kind of the whole spectrum of questions in order to capture the essence of who people are.”

An accomplished songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, McInnis studied at Acadia University and graduated with her Bachelor of Music Therapy (BMT) in 2019. Since then, she has also achieved certification as an end-of-life doula through Douglas College and launched her business — Blue Cedar Music Therapy — during the pandemic.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be expanding in the future just as I introduce other things into my work,” says McInnis, noting that while she still offers a variety of services as a music therapist, the Legacy Song Project has demanded more of her attention.

“For me, it is sort of the perfect outlet for myself, as an artist and as a songwriter and musician, to be able to have full creative control over creating a piece of music, a piece of art for people,” says McInnis. “But I also see it as such a unique form of music therapy, where the song and the storytelling become the medium for people being able to express themselves where they may not have been able to otherwise.”

For more information on the Legacy Song Project, visit the website.

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