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'Musicians Have Big Generous Hearts': Swan Songs' 2020 Fundraising Gala Goes Virtual

“Swan Songs fulfills musical last wishes,” Christine Albert says of the non-profit she created fifteen years ago. “So for individuals who are nearing the end of life, they can request whatever their favorite style of music is, or even a local artist, and we bring that to them.”

A singer-songwriter herself, Albert has always made it a priority to fairly compensate the musicians involved with the project while keeping the service free for the families. “Musicians have big generous hearts, and want to contribute. [But] we’re asking them to utilize all their skills and experience and so compensating musicians was really important to me, which is honestly the reason I thought, ‘well, we have to create a non-proft.’”

Non-profits need funding, and for the last decade, Swan Songs has staged a yearly fundraising gala (they call them “Serenades”) in the fall. This year’s Serenade takes place on Sunday, and 2020 being 2020, it’ll be the first-ever online, virtual version of the gala.

And it’s not just the gala that’s gone virtual; Albert says that while the pandemic has made Swan Songs feel more important and more in need than ever before, it’s also forced the non-profit to change the way it does things. “We realized in the second week of March, we said ‘we have to stop taking musicians into care facilities – this is getting really dangerous,’” Albert says. “So we spent a week, like everybody, kind of in shock and trying to figure out what does this mean? And then we just completely shifted to a virtual model.”

Where once Swan Songs had brought musicians into care facilities, hospices, and private homes, they now found themselves finding new ways to get live music to their clients. Often that means sharing pre-recorded concerts. “The musician records the concert and talks directly to them,” Albert says, adding that as the wether has cooled, they've also started staging live, outdoor concerts. "The musician is out in the yard and the family member is safely distanced," she says. "We have two concerts coming up… in October, one with Pat Green and one with Shinyribs, and they’re going to do outdoor concerts at someone’s home.”

For this Sunday’s gala, Albert says she’s hoping to keep the spirit of the Serenade intact while also embracing the changes made possible by the new virtual format. “It was scheduled to be at the Four Seasons, in a ballroom there, with a silent and live auction, and Robert Earl Keen as our featured artist,” she says. After a few months spent hoping that the event could go on as planned, Albert and her team came to realize that the pandemic would make an in-person gala impossible. While the event became virtual, it'll still feature a full live performance from Keen and an online auction, along with some new programming created specifically for the new livestream format.  “So it’s a virtual event, but I’m really excited about it because we decided not to try and just take what we would have done in the ballroom and do it online. Robert’s going to be performing, but we’re [also] using it as an opportunity to really highlight our program and to tell our stories.”

The tenth annual Swan Songs Serenade gala fundraiser takes place this Sunday starting at 6:30 pm.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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