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Friday, July 19, 2024

Sarah McInnis explores death, grief (and life) with the Legacy Song Project

Like many artists, music had always allowed Annapolis Valley singer-songwriter Sarah McInnis to process things when words alone were insufficient. So, coupled with a desire to use her music therapy education and thoughts of working in palliative care, despite a somewhat ironic irrational fear of losing her loved ones, McInnis set out to do what she does best by creating The Legacy Song Project: Atlantic Chapter, an album documenting the experiences of eight Atlantic Canadians at the end of their lives and those who have lost loved ones.

“I liken it to fitting together puzzle pieces. I have all the pieces, and I just needed to arrange them in a way that musically makes sense and is lyrically coherent.” – Sarah McInnis.

“When I graduated from music therapy at Acadia [University], and then the pandemic happened, I had time to consider how I wanted to move forward with my music therapy knowledge and how I wanted to represent the profession,” she says. “And that’s when I came up with the idea of the The Legacy Song Project.

Introduced to a musician in California working on a similar project, McInnis was encouraged to bring the process to Canada. Driven by her own experiences with grief, she reached out via social media for participants.

“It’s quite a vulnerable time, whether you’re grieving someone or approaching the end of their own life, and so when we put out the call to participants and had many more people apply than expected,” says McInnis.

Looking for a balance between those who had lost loved ones and those at the end of their lives, McInnis chose eight participants, four from each category, to chronicle their stories in song by distilling the essence of each person based on interviews.

“I liken it to fitting together puzzle pieces,” she says. “I have all the pieces, and I just needed to arrange them in a way that musically makes sense and is lyrically coherent.”

McInnis used a variety of musical styles to write the songs to reflect the participants' taste in music.
Based on interviews with participants, McInnis used a variety of musical styles to write the songs to reflect the participants’ taste in music.

Keeping each of the eight participants involved in the process, McInnis shared with them the song progressions as she began writing. She also worked closely with them to choose a suitable musical genre.

“During the interview process, I asked what type of music they liked, and I tried to create songs that would stylistically match,” she says. “Lyrically, I didn’t have people put any input in, but musically, I was checking in with people about that.”

The completed songs ran the gamut of genres, including one featuring ambient meditation and heartbeat drumming and another using rap music.

“And then there’s another one that is more gospel-inspired because it was written for a preacher and his wife who spent their lives ministering to congregations in the church,” says McInnis.

The reaction from the eight participants has been very positive. “They all seem very happy and moved by their respective songs, and I think they feel like the songs really represent them,” says McInnis.

McInnis is particularly excited that some participants will be in the audience as she takes The Legacy Song Project on tour across the region. The concert will begin with a short documentary screening, followed by a live performance of the eight songs.

“We will feature a question period after each show, and [participants] will have an opportunity to come on stage, meet each other and be acknowledged because this project would not have happened without them,” she says.

In addition to celebrating the eight, McInnis also hopes that the live performances of The Legacy Song Project will inspire audiences to talk to each other about grief and dying.

“Right now, society, in general, is quite averse to it, and we don’t create space for grieving,” she says. “So, I hope people leave feeling inspired to do something they’ve been putting off or just feel encouraged to acknowledge that we’re all going to die, but we have time here to do beautiful things and we can make that happen with the time we have.”

The Legacy Song Project comes to The Stage at St. Andrew’s (6036 Coburg Rd, Halifax) on June 7 as part of a five-stop Atlantic tour. Visit for tickets and more information.

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