AUSTIN (KXAN) — For 16 years, Austin nonprofit Swan Songs has been fulfilling musical last wishes for those with terminal illnesses. Now, the nonprofit is extending its serenades to Austin’s healthcare workers who have worked on the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each October, Swan Songs hosts its annual gala fundraiser, where hundreds gather for food, music and auctions. Given the state of the pandemic, Swan Songs founder Christine Albert said hosting an in-person event as healthcare workers are overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases felt irresponsible.
“It just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s not safe, and we work so closely with the healthcare community to fulfill musical last wishes, that we were acutely aware of how stressful the situation is.”
Connecting with Amy Lukken, chief joyologist at Tito’s Handmade Vodka, the two said this year’s fundraiser shouldn’t focus solely on the donors — rather, it should be an extended thank you to the healthcare workers who have done their best to keep Austin as safe and healthy as possible.
On Oct. 17, Tito’s and Swan Songs will host “Love, Tito’s & Swan Songs Serenade to Our Healthcare Community.” The livestream event, beginning at 7 p.m., will feature local musicians sharing their music and sending well wishes to members of the healthcare community.
The event will also include raffle items to help raise funds for the nonprofit, and will feature testimonials from healthcare workers who’ve been impacted by the music performances.
In the lead up to this year’s fundraiser, Swan Songs has been dropping virtual performances from local artists each Friday as a way to share messages of encouragement for healthcare workers. Marcia Ball, Ray Benson, Ray Prim and Jackie Venson are some of the artists who will perform during the livestreamed event.
While the October livestream is part of Swan Songs’ annual fundraising efforts, Albert said appreciation and service toward healthcare personnel should be a year-round effort.
“You know, you see so many of those interviews with nurses and doctors as they’re leaving the hospital after a really long shift, and they’re sitting in the parking lot and just kind of processing what they’ve just been through,” she said. “And I thought, those are the moments when they might need to just pull up a song from one of their favorite artists or a song that really resonated with them, and listen to some music and hear an encouraging message from a local musician.”
Those moments of grief and processing are ones many have become all too familiar with during the pandemic, Albert said. The beauty of music, and its unifying ways, lie in its ability to make people feel seen, connected and understood.
In a time when close physical contact isn’t encouraged, it exists to remind people they aren’t alone, she said.
“[Music] allows you to tap into very deep and sometimes complex and conflicted emotions, and just gives you the space to feel those without feeling compelled to have to put words around it and explain it to someone,” she said.