Creative Aging Directory - Songwriting Works

Program Title
Songwriting Works
Program Summary

The Songwriting Works™ (SW) Educational Foundation serves communities of adults 60 and over, families, and healthcare and arts practitioners each year by conducting hands-on songwriting workshops, music empowerment groups, and artist-in-residence programs in healthcare, classroom, and community settings. SW replicates its singing programs by conducting trainings for arts, healthcare, and education professionals as well as facilitator certification training for professional musicians. To date, more than 3,200 participants have composed more than 325 original songs.

Program Background and History

The Songwriting Works™ method was initially developed by Judith-Kate Friedman during her years as California Arts Council artist in residence at Artworks (later the Center for Elders and Youth in the Arts) at the San Francisco Institute on Aging (1990-92). She then replicated the SW model with older adults in multi-site healthcare settings, intergenerational groups, youth (K-12) including “youth-at-risk,” adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, incarcerated women, and professionals in healthcare and social services. Ongoing programs and projects since that time have taken place at the Jewish Home San Francisco, the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, and in the rural Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Programs have been conducted in conjunction with conferences, the MetLife/American Society on Aging MindAlert program, StoryCorps, and other community partners in cities across the U.S.

Program-Specific Research and Key Findings

In her nine-month study of Songwriting Works™ programs with 40 older adults (average age 87) in a skilled nursing residence, Dr. Theresa Allison, MD, observed that participants with short-term memory deficits due to neurocognitive disorders retained words and music to the original songs that they and/or their community had collectively composed; their songs entered the repertoire of the institution. Even those with advanced cognitive decline were able to generate fresh, creative, memorable lyrics, melodies, images, and word choices, and sing lines to the choruses of songs they helped compose without prompting. Repeated participation had a demonstrated cumulative and lasting impact on cognition and socialization.

Program-Specific Assessment and Evaluation

Songwriting Works™ is evaluated on an ongoing basis through the use of interviews, solicited testimonials, individual assessments (surveys and questionnaires), attendance numbers, press reviews, return requests from facilities, product sales, donations to the organization, and programmatic spin-offs. Evaluations are conducted by staff, partner organizations, and outside independent evaluators. Participants are invited to design and review parts of the evaluation process.

Advice for Other Organizations Conducting Similar Programs

Gather mentors and take constituent leadership seriously. Value the arts and develop collaborations in the fields of education, social service, medicine, and research. If you can, digitally document everything. Collaborate in ways that inspire the teaching artists as well as participants. Honor and give attribution to the places and people from whom you are drawing elements and ideas.

City (Main)
Port Townsend
State (Main)
Phone-Phone (Main)
Facebook Link
Twitter Link
Arts Discipline
Kinds of Creative Engagement/Program Focus
Creation of Original Work, Presenting a Performance, Attending a Performance, Participate in a Class, Participate in a Workshop, Participate in an Ensemble, Participate in a Residency, Watch a Lecture/Demonstration
Kinds of Creative Engagement/Program Focus Other
Interdisciplinary Connections
Civic Engagement, Education, Health / Medicine, Housing / Placemaking, History, Science, Volunteerism
Creative engagement
Target Audience
Active Adults, Caregivers - Family, Caregivers - Professional, Frail Older Adults, Intergenerational, People with Alzheimer's Disease / Dementia
Adaptive Program Design
Hearing Disabilities, Visual Disabilities, Mobility Disabilities, Cognitive Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, Psychiatric Disabilities
Adaptive Program Design Other
Program Setting
Adult Day Care, Aging Organization (e.g. Senior Center), Arts Organization, Assisted Living, Community Center, Education (e.g. School / University), Healthcare - Acute Care (e.g. Clinic / Hospital), Healthcare - Palliative Care / Hospice, Healthcare - Long Term Care, Healthcare - Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), Healthcare - Home Care, Library, House of Worship / Religious Center, Park or Botanical Garden, Social Service Agency, Sports, Recreation or Health Club (e.g. YMCA/YWCA)
Program Service Area / Geography
Rural, Suburban, Urban, International Outreach, Virtual
Program Service Area / Geography Other

Current programs including Western Washington state’s remote rural Olympic Peninsula, including two counties where 1 in 3 persons is age 60+, urban San Francisco at a large continuing care campus, international outreach through publications and internet, and new long-distance learning (virtual) planned for 2013.