When first creating spontaneous songs, I did not imagine the benefit this musical approach might offer those nearing the end of life.

It was only after my own father’s passing and my experience with song at his bedside, that I began to grasp the possible crossover effects this intimate and personal musical interchange might hold for others going through this inevitable and sometimes lonely life passage.

At the time I was living near Seattle, Washington. It was the early nineties, at the peak of the AIDS epidemic. I contacted Bailey-Boushay House, the largest residential HIV/AIDS care center and hospice in the Northwest, offering my musical support. The program director recommended I enroll in their volunteer program, where applicants learn about safety procedures and protocols when coming in contact with someone with AIDS.

Once completing the program, I was allowed entry into the residential facility. That very first day my rather idealistic vision of musical care shifted to a more pragmatic understanding as I encountered the uniquely individual, vulnerable, fragile, sometimes chaotic and often deeply touching experience of bringing music into an AIDS hospice.

One of my strongest memories from that time is the deep silence which often permeates the room of someone hovering at the edge of their life. It is a silence which actually has no need for music, but only for respect of the person and honoring of the moment. Yet out of that space, born of silence, a song might then arise spontaneously, whose lyrics would somehow attempt to meet the person in their solitude, in their fear, in their wondering. The songs provided a tender meeting with that Mystery which confronts us all eventually, a musical welcoming into what matters most.

After several months of sharing music at Bailey-Boushay House, I was contacted by the comfort therapies program of Franciscan Healthcare in Tacoma, Washington. They had a musical position open, and asked me to join. In doing so, I began a new chapter of bringing ‘SongCare’ to people throughout the region. The locations differed widely; a nursing home, a private residence, a trailer park, a mansion. Death shows no favoritism; it is impartial to age, race, class or social status.

I would receive a patient’s name and address in the morning and drive somewhere in the Tacoma area to meet them, bringing guitar and tape recorder along.

One day I arrived at a remote woodland address, only to find a hearse quietly parked in front of the house. Not knowing quite how to proceed, I knocked at the door, offered my condolences, and then asked if the family might like to receive a song for themselves. They thanked me, but said it wasn’t a good time.

No doubt, to sing for someone as they were close to death held a unique opportunity- a potential gift for both the one dying and for their family. But what if the one who was dying was already hearing their own ‘inner music’, a harmonic of ‘the Great Song’ always singing, always playing? What if song could have a special value for those left behind- the family, as well as the care providers- nurses, chaplains, therapists, physicians?

From that day forward I expanded my approach to SongCare- the creation and recording of spontaneous, intuitively inspired songs. Beyond the bedside, I brought this method to healthcare support groups, nurse and therapist conferences, chaplain retreats, grand rounds in hospitals, memorial services- wherever there was an openness to artistic approaches to care.

On every occasion of creating a new song it was recorded, with the tape left behind for the patient, and for their family. It was only some years later I began the practice of keeping a copy of these spontaneous recordings, ultimately resulting in a collection of several thousand original song recordings.

Occasionally the imprint of a song was so strong I would transcribe it once returning home. In this way a song for one person became a song for many. Several of these songs were included in my album JourneySongs (1998), selected by a national healthcare system to give as a gift to 10,000 nurses.

The impact of meeting people on such a deep and authentic level felt too precious to not share in a wider way. This idea ultimately led to an entirely new way of supporting people in the significant transitions of their lives, an approach which has now touched people around the world.

Living Inside Your Love

This song was born during a visit in a hospital with an elderly man, dying in the presence of his wife. When I asked if he had any wishes for a song, he said it was about their love. She remarked that he had never spoken of love before; this song provided an opening for a meaningful conversation between them.

Day is done and over, night covers the skies
One by one the stars come out in your eyes
And I’m right here beside you
Nowhere to run, no comforting lies
See my heart all pulled apart, big surprise
I can hardly stand it, all choked up inside
This feeling I really need you, it can’t be denied
You’re woven so fine, crossing every line of my life
I breathe in your love
In your love, in your love, I receive your love
Wherever I go I always know I’m living inside your love.
Took your love for granted, holding back on mine
Just so glad I found it while there is time
To let you know I love you, still I keep asking why
You took care to come and grace my life (chorus)
So glad that we are here together
That I shared my life with you (chorus.

Angel Eyes

This song was born during a visit with a young woman in her dying process. After the song was sung, the elders present, from an indigenous tradition, said they would name her Angel Eyes.

When there are no words to say
That’s the time I simply pray
Help me know the way for moving on
First step’s all I need to know
Next one follows in the flow
A kind of dance where you and I belong

Soon the sky will open as if magic’s in the air
Not a word is spoken, I feel a Presence everywhere
Angel eyes see you
Angel eyes they are looking through

Angel eyes you knew, you’re just seeing again
Angel eyes see you
Angel eyes they are looking through
Angel eyes shine true like your very best friend
You’re seeing again

When there are no words to say
That’s the time we simply pray
Help us know the way to move along
First step’s all we need to know
Next one follows in the flow
A kind of dance that keeps love growing strong