Up Close: Voices of our Elders

“This is a great gift to our island.”
—Friday Harbor Story Gathering Workshop Participant

Over the summer of 2017, The Academy for the Love of Learning worked with composer/facilitator Grisha Krivchenia to deliver a Lifesongs Story Gathering Training in Friday Harbor, Washington and explore a model for bringing Lifesongs to new communities. This past September, the group presented “Up Close: Voices of our Elders” at the San Juan Community Theater.

You may remember Grisha from his appearances at Lifesongs concerts over the past few years. He has worked with the Santa Fe-based Lifesongs Project since 2013. Like all Lifesongs facilitators, Grisha attended Lifesongs facilitator trainings as well as the Coming Full Circle Training at the Academy. Grisha became an important member of the Santa Fe facilitation team, but his home is in Friday Harbor, Washington a small town on San Juan Island. (he was based in Santa Fe while his wife was in graduate school- you can read a story about how he found Lifesongs here: http://www.sfreporter.com/music/2016/01/05/classic/)

The Story Gathering pedagogy is a relatively new project from Lifesongs. It was created to respond to the desire from many community members to do Lifesongs- like work, whether or not you have skills as a composer. The Community Story Gathering Training Materials have been developed over the past three years through partnerships with the Santa Fe Waldorf School, Santa Fe Care Center and Kingston Residence. 

Up Close is a project that pairs local artists with elders in the San Juan Island community. Composers, playwrights, choreographers, and poets meet weekly with elder partners for several months. The artists gather stories and engage their elder-partners directly in the creation of original works performed for the public at San Juan Community Theatre September 15-17, 2017. 12 people signed up for the Friday Harbor training. Eleven women and one man. The attendees included a social worker who works with elders, a retired hospice nurse, several hospice volunteers, the activities director at a local nursing home, and community theatre volunteers.

Grisha partnered with San Juan Community Theater as the fiscal sponsor and primary institutional home of the project. The theater’s Artistic Director, Bobby Ryan, wrote, “I am focused on providing programming that appeals to our long-term audience base, while also offering events that draw new audience members. The Up Close program is yet another way of reaching and bringing together our community in a unique and artistic way. Like many other communities in the industrialized world, San Juan Island is experiencing a growing elderly population. We are living longer lives, and there is a great interest locally in promoting quality of life, meaning, and creativity as people age and approach the end of life.”

The project worked with Hospice of San Juan and community volunteers and received a grant from the Community Foundation of San Juan Island. I had the honor of attending the dress rehearsal and one of three performances the group put on for community members. The presentations ranged from co-created songs to spoken word to poignant testimonies, spoken by the elders, about their life, loves, hopes and dreams. I received an email from Bobby after I landed back in Santa Fe. He wrote, “We still have many kudos pouring in about Up Close.  It was, for many people, their favorite production/event that they have seen at the theatre.  I already have community members sending me names of people that they think would be a great fit for next years project. Without a doubt, if the program is continued next year, it will have even a larger draw.  We turned away quite a few people…and I have also met with people who would want to come see it now that they have heard such rave reviews.”

What I saw in that sold out show was similar to what I have observed at Lifesongs Concerts in Santa Fe. I saw engaged and grateful community members and an audience moved to collective empathy. I heard the collective sigh that results when you witness kindness, and the tears that come when someone tells their true story of loss and love. What was most striking was the simplicity of the delivery and the resulting high impact. It was clear that there is potential in this model being replicated in other places, creating community connection, empathy and deep, soulful inter-generational exchange.

Please contact us if you are interested in Story Gathering in your community.


“This could be a year-long program!”
“Its honest and real”