After a short hiatus, Swan Songs Serenade returns with new leadership and a compelling featured performance.
By Cy White, Images courtesy of Swan Songs
After two years virtual events, Swan Songs gets back in the proverbial saddle with their Serenade gala. The return comes with some new creative direction. Shannon Moody, former executive director for Minneapolis-based nonprofit Jeremiah Program, comes on board as Swan Songs’ new ED. “Shannon brings a depth of nonprofit leadership experience that will ensure Swan Songs continues to thrive,” says Swan Songs CEO Christine Albert. Joining Moody are Swan Songs Serenade Event Co-chairs Celeste and Adrian Quesada. The Quesadas are known powerhouses in the community. Activists and unabashed nonprofit champions, they bring passion and a dedication to Swan Songs that’s sure to propel the organization and its Serenade event to unparalleled heights.
This year’s Serenade takes place on Sunday, Oct. 23 at the Four Seasons Hotel. Moody, Albert, Celeste and Adrian answered a few questions about the event’s present and its brilliant future.
(Pictured left with Swan Songs Co-founder Gaea Logan)
I am Christine Albert, lifelong professional musician and founder and CEO of Swan Songs. I moved to Austin from Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1982, drawn by music and the supportive community, and started my career in 1975 in Santa Fe and was ready for new challenges and opportunities to grow.
In 1992 I was asked to come to the home of and sing for a dying fan, since he could no longer come out to hear me. I was struck by the joy that performance inspired – for him, his wife, and his friends who attended, as well as for me and the other musicians who played with me. The idea for Swan Songs was born in that moment. In 2005 I filed with the Secretary of State and we created a 501(c)(3) organization.
My name is Shannon Moody, the new executive director of Swan Songs.
“I am honored to join this incredible organization during this pivotal time, and look forward to growing our impact on the Central Texas community. The Serenade directly supports
our mission to celebrate the end of life through the gift of music and we are thrilled to be back together during such an important year for Swan Songs.”
Shannon, how did you get involved with Swan Songs? How have you adjusted to being the new ED?
SM: A close friend shared that Swan Songs was looking to expand to new communities and looking to hire leadership to focus on local growth and community outreach in Austin. After learning more about Swan Song’s mission, I knew it was the perfect opportunity. In my first few months onboard, I have loved learning from Christine and the rest of the experienced staff and board.
What has been the most enlightening part of moving into this new roles?
SM: I recently attended my first Swan Songs concert performed for a beautiful woman in a Memory Care facility. I felt honored to witness them sharing that experience. Everyone there seemed to realize how special that time together was. From the musician, the staff at the facility and the recipient’s friends and family. I hope we can bring the gift of Swan Songs to more individuals and families. Not only across the country, but in our own backyard in Central Texas.
CQ: Part of being chair of an event is putting together an amazing group of volunteers to serve on the committee. Our Swan Songs committee is a team of diverse community leaders who all have a deep connection to music, health care and a profound wisdom of losing a loved one. These active and truly busy people constantly inspire and enlighten us by not only giving their money but also their time to support an incredible organization that provides a very unique opportunity for so many. Come join this group on October 23, and together, we can do our part together.
AQ: Coming from the music side, I’ve loved seeing the passion of such a large group of people coming together donating their time for things they believe in. It’s been inspiring to be a part of a team that brings a variety of skills to the table that will all contribute to a special event.
Celeste and Adrian, how did you get involved with Swan Songs? What ultimately led you to join the team?
CQ: I got involved with Swan Songs because our dear friend Shannon Moody asked me to lunch. The rest is history. Shannon and I worked together at Austin Film Society. I was always impressed with her leadership. As a new mom, I was beyond impressed with her ability to be an effective leader and a fantastic mother. Once I signed on, I just knew this was something that Adrian and I should do together.
Ultimately we accepted the offer to co-chair the event because of the incredible work Swan Songs provides our Central Texas community. Fulfilling musical last wishes by organizing private concerts for individuals with a terminal illness or nearing the end of life. Let’s face it, none of us get out of this alive. We will all transition out of this mortal coil. In a time, where Texas feels so fragile, so divided, this organization provides a mission we can all agree upon. We all value and appreciate health care, music and family.
AQ: My schedule this year has had me traveling quite a bit. But Celeste always fills me in on her endeavors that give back to our community. She mentioned Swan Songs and who else was involved so far. As I learned more about the mission, I made it a point to be involved to whatever extent I could be.
Can you speak a little bit about this year’s Serenade?
CA: Of course, it is wonderful to be back in person. Our 2020 Swan Songs Serenade with Robert Earl Keen was virtual, as was the 2021 event. Having Shannon, Celeste and Adrian involved is bringing fresh energy, support and ideas while leaning on the established history and personality of the event—the best of both worlds. Bob Schneider fulfilled a musical last wish for Swan Songs in 2017. He understands the mission, and of course his artistry is undeniable. It promises to be quite special.
CQ: Judy Maggio and Laurie Gallardo are two veteran journalists who speak to the issues each in their own unique way. For 40 years, Judy Maggio has been a sought-after storyteller, communicator, moderator and broadcaster in Central Texas. Judy built her brand on trust, accuracy and service to the community. We need leadership like this more than ever before.
Laurie Gallardo and I have worked together numerous times, including five Austin Music Awards in which she was a master of ceremonies, and I was the show producer. She’s incredibly well respected in the Austin music community. She has won Best Radio Personality by voters in the Austin Chronicle annual readers’ poll countless times.
It is an honor to have these women at the helm of the event, guiding our guests through the evening.
As the in-person comeback for this event, what are you most excited about?
CA: Presenting something even more spectacular to tried-and-true supporters, while introducing our mission to new people in the room. I want everyone to walk away truly understanding what Swan Songs is all about.
CQ: For 25 years, I was a producer and creative director focusing on promoting the finest talent that Texas has to offer while raising funds for nonprofit organizations. Due to the global pandemic, we’ve had to put a pause on gatherings. As social creatures, our spirits became dehydrated and thirsty for human connection. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to host a special sacred ceremony guised in the form of a gala and savor a sense of unity while raising funds and energy for a mission.
AQ: As we cautiously see the return of in person events, I feel there are some things that just can’t be accurately conveyed virtually. The power of music is certainly one, and the need for human connection is another. Hopefully this event brings those together to raise money for a great cause.
What is your vision for the organization moving forward?
SM: To become one of the nonprofits everyone thinks of when talking about end-of-life care. Music and the end of life are perfect partners; music is a powerful way to bring back joyful memories for the entire family, or only the recipient if there isn’t family involved in their final days.
CA: Swan Songs makes so much sense in Austin, “the live music capital of the world.”
Music is a part of our culture; there are thousands of musicians to draw from, to fulfill the unique musical last wish requests.
Although Swan Songs has grown and increased the annual number of requests from three to 300, there is still so much untapped potential in terms of community awareness. I look forward to the day that every person in Austin knows about this opportunity so that music lovers nearing the end of lives don’t miss the chance to request a Swan Songs concert and be moved by their favorite music one last time.
Additionally, I am deeply committed to building a model for other communities to bring Swan Songs to their region. Although the program fits so well in Austin, dying is universal. As is the profound impact that music can have on the human spirit.
Swan Songs’ staff and board have been actively working on this expansion model since 2019. Hiring Shannon Moody as executive director is an important piece of the puzzle. Austin is the mothership chapter. Under Shannon’s leadership it will not only serve the Austin community, but provide a strong and vital example for other communities to aspire to.
I will gradually shift my focus to the national initiative. Educating, training and supporting other communities as they create a community chapter, which is an affiliated yet independent Swan Songs organization. This network of like-minded groups across the country will touch exponentially greater numbers of individuals nearing the end of life.
What you’re most excited about as you expand Swan Songs to other regions?
CA: I am excited to hear the stories of Swan Songs concerts in other cities. To see the photos and feel the passion from the musicians and volunteers. Death in our culture has been kept in the shadows with whispered conversations. It is a sacred journey. Music can enrich the experience and create connection for everyone in that circle.
Sky’s the limit, what are your biggest aspirations for Swan Songs?
SM: I would love to see Swan Songs be a household name, known for the joy that music brings us all during a common life experience.
CA: Swan Songs – Switzerland! Haha! It’s only kind of a joke. I’d like to see this movement of personalized music at the end of life grow, without placing limitations. The model we are developing allows each community to create their own Swan Songs. The responsibility to establish, fund, grow, nurture and sustain it is local, with the national organization providing tools, training, community building and mission fit oversight. We are intentionally allowing the flexibility for each chapter to reflect their own community.
Find out more about this year’s Swan Songs Serenade on the Swan Songs official website.