I used to play what I referred to as "the nursing home circuit." It was a chance to spend a little time performing music without any agenda and simply bring joy to people.
I would sing songs from bygone eras and see otherwise catatonic patients light up in ways they would not otherwise, and those whose dementia was so bad they might not even know their own names, sing every lyric to every song they knew in their youth. It was a reminder of the inestimable power of music, and maybe I took it a little for granted then, because I was young and still had both my parents with me.
No one starts out saying, "When I grow up, I'd like to interrupt my life to become the caretaker for my aging parents." Yet, more and more, this is the role that many of us, particularly women, find ourselves in. And in the process of that realization, we must redefine ourselves, our goals and what matters most to us.
For professional songwriters like me and many in my circle, we've spent years "chasing the cut," (trying to get established artists to record our songs), with varying degrees of success. In more recent years, as the music industry has changed, we've spent a lot of time developing, writing for and producing teenage artists, with the hope that they would become "the next big thing."
Most of us began with aspirations of being performing artists ourselves, and with time, have worn enough different musical hats to be able to adapt and utilize the experiences we've accumulated. But all that seems clinical now. We still have that creative core of our being that longs for expression in a way that is meaningful and reflective of our current lives.
Maybe it's because my own mother passed away from a stroke almost ten years ago, or maybe it's because I have spent some time lately looking at the forgotten musical demographic of the over-forty but still breathing population of this country, that I am so moved by Tanya Leah's "Somewhere Beautiful" project.
A successful songwriter and producer with the #1 song "Stand" as well as the recently-released "All About Maggie" debut CD to her credit, Ms. Leah has set about crafting a group of songs to reach her father, who suffered a massive stroke over a year ago and continues to be trapped in a body, frequently agitated and frustrated, but also present and very much alive.
In the process of her daily hours spent with him, she searched for ways to soothe him, calm him and make him happy, and what was birthed in the process was songs that can make us all feel better. It is what she refers to as "happy-making" music.
Thanks to the resurgence of the "independent artist" and websites such as Kickstarter and social media like Facebook, projects like Ms. Leah's "Somewhere Beautiful" can be funded and put out into the world to do the most good for the most people. That is a very different mindset with which to undertake something than the current industry standard. But it is this writer's bold assertion that original projects such as this one can be both meaningful as well as financially viable, if for no other reason than the sheer number of people impacted each year by either illness or other personal trials of which there are never a shortage.
Who on the East Coast hasn't suffered massively this past week? Who anywhere, for that matter, hasn't had a rough go of it recently? (Even Mitt Romney's got to be a little bummed out, don't you think?) Who doesn't need to get away and go "somewhere beautiful?" We all do. And with Tanya Leah's music, we all can.