Songs are inside seniors; writers help bring them to stage in Chimacum Saturday

CHIMACUM — The modern media may endow famous songwriters with superpowers, but Songwriting Works places that strength into mortal, and local, hands.

“Everyone has a song inside them whether they are young, old or in between,” said mandolin player Matt Sircely.

“We can help bring these songs alive.”

Sircely is one of five local professional songwriters participating in Songwriting Works, a National Endowment for the Arts grant-funded collective that teaches song crafting to senior citizens while setting their life experiences to words and music.

The group is hosting “Singing for our Lives!” a concert and silent auction to benefit Songwriting Works programs, at the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road, Chimacum, on Saturday.

A silent auction will begin at 2 p.m., with the concert starting at 3 p.m.

Peninsula residents have hand in songs

More than 100 people from Clallam and Jefferson counties had a hand in composing the songs that will be performed.

Performances will feature Sircely, Judith-Kate Friedman, Paula Lalish, Keeth Monta Apgar and special guests Andy Mackie and J.J. Jenkins.

The group, founded by Friedman in 1990, visits senior citizens, mostly in care facilities or group homes, encouraging them to talk about their lives in ways that can fit into verse.

This is a more interactive experience than inviting a performer to provide interpretations of golden oldies, as it encourages people to participate as it democratizes the songwriting process.

And while it won’t cure cancer, writing a song can be a cure for a variety of ills, for people who are isolated, depressed or just overwhelmed by getting older.

“Social interaction boosts the immune system,” said Lalish, a harpist.

“By telling their stories and turning them into song, people are experiencing creativity.”

The idea of transforming stories into songs was developed by Friedman, a songwriter, performer and producer. The group now serves some 500 to 800 people annually, according to group’s Web site.

Painting a mural

Friedman said songwriting is quite different than the stereotypical solitary songwriter process, but instead resembles the painting of a mural.

“If someone writes a song, it brings them out of themselves,” she said. “It gives them a way to express their feelings about health, happiness, community and relationships.”

Friedman said seniors often tell the same stories over and over because they think no one is listening. Setting those stories to music can allow them to move on.

One in particular, the “WW II Homecoming Song,” got its first verse from a blurted phrase from one care home resident.

“On the way over in World War II with my twin brother in the Marines. I went all over, shipped out again to the Philippines. . . . the war got over, we came back home.”

The song, set to a minor-key melody, is one of the group’s most stirring selections.

During its composition, another resident of the home came into the room on her walker, sang four notes and walked out.

That refrain found its way into the song, an incident which Friedman called “a drive-by.”

Later, when the man’s family members heard the song, they realized how much he missed his twin and reunited the brothers.

“Our job is to interpret their stories and bring them to life,” Friedman said. “We encourage them to create, and positively reinforce the results.”

An album of songs

The group has put together about an album’s worth of songs, and is looking for ways to publish and promote the tunes so that they can be heard by a wider audience and perhaps benefit the composers in some way.

Many of these songs will be performed this weekend. In some cases, the original composers are back-up musicians.

Friedman said the project is supported by several sources, and that facilities are willing to pay for the service when they witness its positive results.

In some cases, seniors who participate in the songwriting program are more mentally acute and fall down less often.

And it is a work in progress.

Friedman calls the group “beta testers,” while Lalish sums up by saying “we are building the bridge while we are still standing on it.”

Admission to Saturday’s concert is by donation, with donations of $5 to $50 suggested.

For more information, see or phone 360-385-1160.


Jefferson County reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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