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  • Writer's pictureCarla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC

So This is Covid: A Songwriting Project

Composing and performing a song when you don’t consider yourself a musician can be a formidable task. But for Mainers already facing a cancer diagnosis and adapting to life during COVID-19, it was a challenge they were ready to take on. This song was created as part of the Jack Pine Project, a project at the University of Maine to capture the pandemic experiences of Maine residents through the creative arts. Like most group experiences right now, we met over Zoom. The challenge of making music together over an online platform was just one more obstacle that we overcame!

Unlike therapy work, participation in this project was not confidential, but rather a space to create a work of art to be shared with the public. We are excited to share our performance with you!

(Turn on closed captions to view lyrics.)

Workshop Reflection

Connecting through music is part of human nature, and we have been doing it for generations. When I learned that the University of Maine was looking for artists to lead workshops that would add to our understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting Mainers, I was immediately interested in participating. Artists were asked to identify cohorts of people with a unique experience to share. I approached the Beth Wright Cancer Center in Ellsworth, who helped recruit participants already facing a life-threatening illness before the pandemic. We wanted to use musical expression to bring people together, and to highlight their individual and collective experiences.

Music is a wonderful way to break down barriers and build bonds quickly. We began our workshop by sharing our favorite musical styles and songs. We spoke about how music helps connect us to our history, to our hopes, and to each other. We explored how COVID-19 has impacted our lives, and what it is like to live through a pandemic while also having a cancer diagnosis.

It didn’t take long for the group, none of whom would describe themselves as a "musician," to begin writing their own songs. We quickly progressed from a humorous Mad Libs songwriting exercise, to fill-in-the-blank compositions using existing songs. New lyrics were created to tunes like “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” and “I Can See Clearly Now.” Songs touched on topics ranging from grocery shopping during the pandemic, to racism and social injustices, to imagining a time when cancer and COVID-19 have both been defeated. Participants were excited to sing their creations to the group each week and received much support from each other. Our final project was an original song, loosely modeled after John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”. This song was an opportunity to collaborate together on lyrics, melody, and recording. We formulated the concept and then worked diligently on revising the lyrics to include the variety of perspectives represented in our group. We wanted to capture the layers of uncertainty and fear that underlie both a cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once lyrics were finished, individual members took on the challenging technological task of recording themselves while singing along to a guide track. I learned how to stitch the individual recordings together using music editing software in order to create a blended piece. Our goal was to create a unified recording that represents our feelings about COVID-19 and cancer, while also capturing how we could be physically apart but still create something amazing together. The lyrics to our creation are below.

So This is Covid By Seren B., Bob C., and Kay J.

So this is COVID, A deadly disease.

Silent and stealthy,

Until we can’t breathe. A life-threatening illness,

We call COVID-19. We’ve lost far too many,

And most go unseen.

And so this is Cancer, How much can we take?

The pain and the suffering ,

With hardly a break. A stressful 2020, Not such a good year. We must keep our distance,

But I want someone here.

[Chorus] Covid and Cancer,

Layers of fear. I want my life back, The future’s unclear. We’ve got double the threat.

Let’s all wear a mask. Covid and cancer, We are up for the task. We have the power, To change what we can.

Be positive and vigilant,

We will take a stand! Covid and Cancer, It’s been quite a year.

Let’s work together,

And conquer our fear.

Special thanks to the University of Maine Jack Pine Project, Beth Wright Cancer Center, and Kreg Ettenger.

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