LIV ON – an exclusive interview with Canadian singer/songwriter Amy Sky

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The LIV ON Project and CD came about as a result of a series of conversations between friends about the most important things in life: Love, loss, hope and healing.

As it happens, the three friends were international star Olivia Newton-John, Canadian singer/songwriter Amy Sky and Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Beth Nielsen Chapman. All three had endured profound, life-altering losses and yet each remained committed to one thing: a desire to transform individual grief into healing via music… for all.

ehospice was given a unique opportunity to ask Amy Sky some personal questions about her involvement in the making of this album. 

LIVON, your newly released album made in collaboration with Olivia Newton John and Beth Nielsen Chapman has a very clear message of hope and encouragement despite difficult times. Can you tell us what prompted the making of this album?

Amy: The project started back in 2014, when Olivia had asked me to help her write a song for her sister Rona’s memorial service. Rona had passed the year previously from a brain tumour. I had recently lost my own mother to cancer, and my father some years before to Parkinson’s disease. When we finished the song, we realized that there was very little music out there to support those who were grieving a loss. So we decided to create a collection of songs, and asked our friend Beth Nielsen Chapman to join us. Beth had written so beautifully about grief since the passing of her husband, when their son was 13.

Would you share your thoughts on the healing powers of music?

Amy: Music can have an extraordinary effect on the emotions. If the lyrics express a story that hits close to home for you, they can be a safe place for you to get in touch with your emotions, which is the only way to move healing forward. A song that ends in four minutes is also somewhat of a container for emotions – sometimes people feel that just talking about them is too overwhelming, but a song has a beginning and an end. On another level, music on its own can help calm brain waves and soothe the spirit. The right song can soothe the mind, open the heart, and feed the soul. 

What personal experiences with grief and loss have you had and how these have impacted on your life?

Amy: My father passed away in 1997, and while it took some time to adjust to his loss, with my mother still alive it was easier to stay in relationship to him. When my mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 2011, the double loss of her passing, and also becoming a child with no living parents, was a very big adjustment. I was not able to function with my normal stamina or joy for many months following my mothers passing. I was quite taken aback at how deeply I was affected, on all levels – physical, emotional and mental. I realized I could not be the only one having such a difficult transition – that many bereaved people must be on a similar journey to transcend their pain.  I also realized that it was an impact sufficiently profound to make me seek professional help and support from a counselor so I could get back to feeling like myself.

Part of my healing process has been to create music inspired by my mother’s life and passing, that would also be meaningful to other people. In some sense it is like having a spiritual project that my Mom and I can work on together – it’s a way of staying in touch with her in her absence. Since she was also a therapist and a writer, it is in some way a continuation of her own mission to uplift and help people. One project, “Twilight Rose”, was a collection of Hebrew prayers that I set to original music. My mother’s Jewish faith and her love of music were equally important to her – and I know she would have just been so proud of that project. Included on it is a setting of the Jewish prayer for the dead called the “Kaddish” – which I set to beautiful uplifting music, instead of the usual melancholy traditional Melody. The other project of course is Liv On, the collaboration with Olivia Newton-John and Beth Nielsen Chapman.
How do you believe the songs on this album will be able to help others going through similar circumstances?  

Amy: We wanted to express the “rainbow of emotions” that are part of a persons grieving journey. The grief process includes emotions like despair, sadness, anger, rebellion, melancholy, and finally Hope and acceptance. I feel like we addressed many of these emotions with the variety of stories we chose to tell on this record. We have already heard from so many people that they are comforted by seeing their own personal experience, reflected in a song. I think one of the most common questions for someone who is grieving is – when will I get over it? Well our answer to that is that you never really get over it – you don’t move on – you “live on” with a “stone in your pocket”. Sometimes it’s a pebble, sometimes it’s a rock and sometimes it’s a boulder – but it’s always with you. And you have to learn to put one foot in front of the other, and accept that this invisible weight is part of a new normal.

Is there a particular song on the album that resonates particularly with your experiences and if so, which one and why?

Amy: Very personal to me on the record is the song “I will take care of you”. It was actually written back when my daughter Zoe was born, in the same year that my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Zoe was born on my birthday, on September 24th, and it seemed to me to be an amazing metaphor about life, that one soul was entering the world and another was leaving.

So I changed the story to be about a mother and a daughter, and the cycle of life story has really been the song that has resonated more than any other song in my career with my fans. I’m so happy to have recorded the new version of the song with Olivia and Beth on its 20th anniversary.

Some of our readers have experienced the tragic loss of a child or work with families who have experienced the loss of a child. Does this album have a message for them and if so, what is that message?

One of the songs on the CD, “My heart goes out to you”, was actually written the day I got the news that the daughter of a friend of mine had passed away.
We were at Olivia’s ranch for a writing retreat for the record. We were actually sitting and eating breakfast when I got the email telling me about the passing of my friend’s daughter. And I said to the girls – “what can you possibly say to someone who has had such a loss?” And we agreed that there is nothing you can say to take the pain away, but you can let the person know that you stand with them in their sorrow. And you can tell them “My heart goes out to you”. And we looked at each other – literally got up from the breakfast table and walked over to the piano and wrote that song in an hour. And it’s a song we performed at the Compassionate Friends conference in Scottsdale in earlier this year. 

I think the important message is to acknowledge for people that you know they are living with such a deep loss, and that you love them and you are here for them and you can walk with them along the path. And the other song that really resonated when we sung at the conference, was the song “Stone in my pocket”. The idea of accepting that the pain will be your constant companion, I think us in someway comforting. No-one expects you to go back to being the way you were. You just “live on”, with a weight in your heart that becomes a part of who you are.

Visit the official LIV ON website to find out more and to buy the album. 

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