The last time I conversed with local songwriter Ian McCartor, we didn’t get to truly delve into an important aspect of his creativity: Writing songs as a registered hospice nurse.
He transforms the life story of those in their final moments into a song for the family and world to enjoy — much like someone plants a tree after someone passes. Today, he discusses how the Legacy Songwriting project started and the songwriting process.
Ian McCartor: It was essentially to sit down and witness somebody. To try and better understand what their lives meant to them. Many times, people pass through the end of their life without being honored. With the songs, it was this really beautiful way to sit down with someone and get their story. Trying to extract this relatable gem of wisdom that can be shared through song with everybody. To inspire all of us to live fuller, more aware lives. To where they know, they were able to serve and give in those final days and months. I think a difficult challenge for the elderly these days is finding ways to be relevant in a modern world. Technology, isolation and distraction has so much to do with it these days.
JD: Absolutely. Your songs can give these stories clarity. Can you talk about all the different types of people you’ve met doing this?
IM: Over the years, I’ve been able to work directly with hospice patients. People who are actively dying with a terminal diagnosis. Since then, it’s blossomed into contracts with the VA down in San Diego. We’ve been able to work with the last of the dying World War II vets from the greatest generation. This has grown into another category of bereavement support for people who have survived the loss of their loved ones who have committed suicide. I also do private commission and contracts for people that have heard about it. Many times, it’s people who have an upcoming birthday of someone that has passed. I interview them about their life, what that person meant to them and what lessons have stuck with them. They become remembrance songs. It’s nice in the holidays because, people who receive these songs, play them when the family is gathered together. The song puts their loved ones at the table with the rest of them.
JD: Wow. What is your process like for crafting each of these individual songs?
IM: I’ve got a pretty specific process since the people I write for don’t have much time left. It starts out with a consultation. I prepare them to collect notes and take some thoughts down about what they’ve found most meaningful. In the initial interview, it’s usually about an hour or so, I have a specific list of questions as road map that has to do with elements of purpose, crossroads, joys and regrets, stuff like that. Then I go home to the studio, review the notes and the recorded interview. From there, I extract what we call in the songwriting world, the North Star. That’s the general theme or wisdom of who this person was. I guess, with my artist liberty, to make the song most focused to find the deepest element of the interview I can identify. Then, I start connecting it with the different elements of their story. If there are particular events connected to the general theme, that is woven into the song. From there, I typically record a demo with the lyrics and melody compiled at that point. I have a lyric plaque I create with each song made of Cherrywood with the lyrics engraved on it in gold. At the bottom it says, “A Song inspired by the legacy of” whomever it is. With the year it was committed essentially. Then, it’s arranged to present to the family and we have a nice little ceremony. Usually, there’s a dinner and other members of the family come. It’s just a really beautiful time to where we can really honor that person, present the plaque and play the song. Hopefully, that person gets to hear that part of who they were and will continue to be. Each legacy plaque has a thumb drive with an MP3 of the song on it, so the family can email it and copy it. In the end, these songs are put into these compilations called “Legacy Albums.” Many times, I’ll include a clip of their interview, usually a portion that inspired the song. That way, people get to hear the context of their actual voice. My intention is that people can stand in my shoes and sit at the bed side in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to other wise.
If you would like more information on Legacy Songwriting, please visit ianmccartor.com