‘Sometimes music is the only thing that lifts people out of themselves’: Songwriter Sive talks about community music and working with dementia-inclusive choirs
Sive always wanted to be a songwriter. The Kildare woman, real name Sadhbh O’Sullivan, studied music at Ballyfermot College, then in Germany and the Netherlands. She wanted to make a career in music but didn’t know how to go about it.
I knew I didn’t want to pressure my songs or compositions to make money or feel like I had to perform at weddings to make a living,” she says. A new direction came through a Masters in Community Music.
Working primarily with older adults in community and healthcare settings, in her daily work, Sive oversees dementia-inclusive choirs and raises awareness of the benefits of music for people with dementia.
This type of work, she says, gives her a sense of fulfillment “because when you push your music, it can sound very ‘me, me, me,’ so it’s good when the accent isn’t on you”.
The focus is on her this month, however, as she releases a finely crafted new alt.folk album, We start in darkness. All of the writing was completed before March 2020, and she says with a sense of relief that this is not a “Covid recording”.
“I think that’s a good thing,” she adds, “and I didn’t feel any pressure to direct the songs that way.”
In 2012, two years before embarking on his master’s degree, Sive released a debut album, We are moving. She’s “still proud” of it but in the meantime has pulled the record from streaming services. “I’m not denying this first album,” she says. “I just think it doesn’t represent my sound anymore.”
Of course, the music has changed. Of We are movingknotty arrangements to those of 2017 The roaring girlSelf-titled EP from 2019, then to We start in darkness, Sive continued to flex his creative muscles. She says the last five years have been a learning curve in terms of songwriting.
Video of the day
“I freed myself a bit,” she says. “I’m more prolific and less attached to the creative process. I’m also more inclined to take note of the opinions and views of others and be able to see the bigger picture. It’s not a bad thing, and it certainly helped.
When Covid hit, she co-founded Embrace Music, a social purpose organization charged with creating opportunities for people to accept music into their daily lives. He has spearheaded many projects including a year-long live broadcast program for care home residents and the release of a song cycle in conjunction with the Irish Hospice Foundation. Sive says it can be humbling to work with less physically and mentally capable people.
“In anything, whether it’s music or whatever, sometimes you can get caught up in a lot of garbage, worrying about certain things, comparing yourself to others,” she says. “I’m not saying I don’t do that, but my daily work shows me a different perspective. You see the struggles some people have, how some people can be so lonely, and how little help people can often get, especially if they are caring for someone.
For participants, different types of music can trigger memories and soothe restless spirits. She is, however, realistic about her work. “As for when people come to choir and have a good time, many people, especially caregivers, say they see the effects of choir sessions for the rest of the day or even the next day.”
During these sessions, people see dementia patients at their optimal level, but, says Sive, “we don’t assume we’re changing their lives, but at the same time it brings people into a room and tries to give them a positive experience for two hours”.
“Sometimes music can be the only thing that lifts a person out of themselves, makes them communicate, express themselves, or bring back memories,” she adds. “It really is a beautiful thing to do.”
“We Begin in Darkness” (VETA Records) has been released