CNMN > Projects > Sound & Song: Collaborative Songwriting With Seniors & Elders

Leah Abramson

  • Voice
  • Acoustic instruments
  • Digital devices
  • Adults
  • Seniors

10-12 2hr sessions

  • Education
  • Community associations
  • Health

Sound & Song: Collaborative Songwriting With Seniors & Elders


Since the start of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, Sound & Song pro­gram par­tic­i­pants have devel­oped an online col­lab­o­ra­tive song­writ­ing prac­tice ground­ed in indi­vid­ual sound­walks. Par­tic­i­pants use sound­walk­ing to gath­er lyri­cal mate­r­i­al for an orig­i­nal song, and write the song togeth­er through week­ly online sessions.

Based at the Round­house Com­mu­ni­ty Arts & Recre­ation Cen­tre, Sound & Song is part of Arts & Health: Healthy Aging through the Arts, which brings togeth­er pro­fes­sion­al artists with groups of seniors and Elders for col­lab­o­ra­tive art mak­ing projects. Our work takes place on the unced­ed, ances­tral ter­ri­to­ries of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlil­wə­taɬ (Tsleil Wau­tuth) Nations.


1. Par­tic­i­pants meet week­ly for 2 hour work­shops to learn singing tech­nique through singing pop­u­lar music, as well as dis­cuss and write about week­ly indi­vid­ual sound­walks. Hilde­gard Westerkamp’s writ­ing on sound­walk­ing is the start­ing point for these discussions.

2. A web-based hub is cre­at­ed where par­tic­i­pants can upload images and short videos they’ve cap­tured with smart­phones on their sound­walks for oth­ers to see. (We use the free, online-based soft­ware, “Padlet,” for this.)

3. These images and videos are watched and dis­cussed togeth­er, and a com­mu­nal word doc­u­ment is start­ed, where the lead artist writes down par­tic­i­pants’ expe­ri­ences of sound­walk­ing. If they have not had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to go out­side, par­tic­i­pants can also describe the scene out­side their win­dow, or respond to the media that oth­ers have post­ed. (See Brain­storm Draft in “Scores.”)

4. Par­tic­i­pants con­tin­ue to take week­ly walks on their own, and a com­mon theme usu­al­ly emerges by the third week. After a theme is cho­sen, par­tic­i­pants keep this theme in mind dur­ing their walks to build upon it in the col­lab­o­ra­tive writ­ing sessions.

5. Once theme has been estab­lished, par­tic­i­pants work togeth­er to build a four-line cho­rus on the theme, dis­cussing rhyme, rhythm, and con­tent of the lines.

6. Once the cho­rus lyrics are com­plete, the lead artist asks the group what style and mood of music they think would com­pli­ment the lyrics, and will say or sing them back rhyth­mi­cal­ly to the group accom­pa­nied by an instrument.

7. The lead artist takes the cho­rus lyrics home and sets them to music. The cho­rus is sung for par­tic­i­pants and edits to the lyrics or music are sug­gest­ed by the group.

8. The process of sound­walk­ing, post­ing to the Padlet, and writ­ing con­tin­ues until anoth­er song sec­tion has been devel­oped. Dis­cus­sions and instruc­tion around song struc­ture occurs as par­tic­i­pants decide what they want the song to sound like and accom­plish lyri­cal­ly. Par­tic­i­pants prac­tice singing the song sec­tions with the lead artist as they go.

9. The lead artist takes new sec­tions home to set to music, and the process con­tin­ues until par­tic­i­pants feel the song is com­plete, and final lyric and music edits are done to sat­is­fac­tion. Vocal har­monies may be devel­oped and taught.

10. The lead artist does a home record­ing of the whole song so par­tic­i­pants may prac­tice on their own and sing it along with the group in their week­ly session.

11. Using head­phones to iso­late their voice, par­tic­i­pants use a phone or com­put­er to record them­selves singing along with the lead artist’s track. Using audio soft­ware such as Band­camp or Audac­i­ty, par­tic­i­pants voice record­ings are then edit­ed togeth­er to form a choir.

12. (Option­al): Song tracks are giv­en to a remix artist for added beats and sound pro­cess­ing. The group can then edit a video togeth­er online using their media from the Padlet, or give this mate­r­i­al to a video artist for edit­ing. This process can be hands-on for par­tic­i­pants if desired, as they work on edits with the remix and video artists.

From a par­tic­i­pant: “Sound & Song has giv­en me a way to express myself in singing, using my brain to col­lab­o­rate with oth­er in writ­ing lyrics and giv­en me a sense of com­mu­ni­ty even though we were in our own homes. The pan­dem­ic is very stress­ful and Sound & Song gave us a way of work­ing through our anx­i­eties. Our song and video turned out fan­tas­tic and it gave us a sense of accom­plish­ment and happiness.”

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