There are nights like tonight….

…that make all the work you’ve put into creating something so worthwhile. Tonight I had the great fortune to spend the evening at the Mothlight, a venue I really enjoy, surrounded by people I hold dear for a very important cause. The Heartbeat Sessions is a project we started last year at Echo Mountain thanks to the amazing people at Arts for Life NC. It all started when the talented Melissa Hyman from the band The Moon in You was in the studio singing background vocals on a session for NPR’s World Cafe with the River Whyless. I mentioned to Melissa and some of the other musicians in the room how I had seen the documentary Alive Inside, which shows the incredible impact that music can have on people with dementia or Alzheimers. I wanted to see if I could use Asheville Music Professionals as a platform to connect musicians with music therapists or nursing homes that work with individuals struggling with memory loss. That’s when Melissa told me about her work with Arts For Life, which is a non-profit dedicated to supporting people facing serious illnesses, especially children with cancer. Melissa uses music to help nurture the minds and spirits of sick children and their families.

She told me she had this great idea where she wanted to get a stethoscope to record the heartbeat of some of the kids, and then use that as the backing beat of a song of their choice. I told her that if she was able to get the stethoscope, Echo Mountain would offer the studio time to record the song for the families. It took some time to get details worked out, but by November of last year, we had our first date booked.   To date, we’ve recorded 4 songs, for different people (I hesitate to use kids because I don’t think a 14 year old is a kid) and this is just the beginning.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Clay Miller, audio engineer extraordinaire who makes these sessions sound so amazing.

Tonight Arts for Life presented Heartbeats, An Interactive Arts and Music Show for all ages. It was here people were able to experience the Heartbeat Sessions live, with a myriad of the local musicians who have made this project possible. All four songs were played live and Melissa shared some information about each person and why the chose that particular song.

When she introduced the second song, a cover of Jason Mraz‘s I’m Yours,  chosen by a young man named Daniel, she told the audience that he had just passed. This was news for me, and a number of other people involved, and we collectively felt a wave of grief as the song started.  For the recording session, Daniel’s mom made sure to give some photos to Melissa to put up in the studio which was really great for everyone to see who the song was chosen by, and whose heartbeat was the foundation for the song.  This was one of a number of times during the evening where I bit my lip to hold back the emotions that swelled inside me.

At the end of the evening Leigh Glass and I were talking to Melissa about how we were caught off guard when she mentioned Daniel’s passing. Melissa had said she thought she had caught a number of people off guard as she had not had the opportunity to let everyone know. Just as we were finishing that conversation, Daniel’s father walked up and thanked the three of us for all the work we had done recording this song for him and his family and he looked at Melissa and said, “Thank you for making the last 10 months bearable.” I didn’t cry then, in public, but I can do so now, in the privacy of my own home thinking about the support that Melissa, Rachel Zink, and Annie Rogers (both also from Arts for Life) have provided for these families. And Daniel’s parents will have this song as way to remember him, made by a group of artists that wanted to help preserve his memory.

At the beginning of this year I made a conscious effort to focus more on projects that have a bigger meaning, that are about lifting us up collectively as one human race. It was a leap of faith as I had to give up some good paying gigs to make room for the things that pay me in other ways. I felt like I was on the right path, but tonight made me realize there’s no turning back.

Here’s a video for the first session we did for 10 year old Jesse. Check it out.

The Heartbeat Project: Jesse from Erin Derham on Vimeo.