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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

A Thread of Empathy - Song (Demo)

I wrote a song this week. I find it funny how my song-writing is nearly always prompted by a demand, such as a specific event or a commission. I can rarely write lyrics without having a purpose in mind, unlike my visual art which just pours out of me in a somewhat compulsive manner. I barely wrote anything during the pandemic because there were no opportunities to perform, instead I started playing the piano more - learning other people’s music.


On Monday I realised that I didn’t have enough relevant music to constitute a performance for an upcoming exhibition and public events programming with my art collective – Dare to Care. The theme of the exhibition organised by GAMIAN, which includes one of my artworks and is currently touring Europe, is mental health. Dare to Care’s focus is on mental health of artists and so we were invited by GAMIAN to deliver some public programming (performances and workshops) to coincide with one of the exhibitions. Three members of our collective are Italian - one from Bologna, so we secured a really cool exhibition space called DumBO for GAMIAN, where the exhibition will take place in April. Five (out of seven) members of our collective are planning to travel there to deliver the public programme on 18th and 19th April.


I wrote a song ‘How Does It Feel?’ last year, in anticipation of a residency and exhibition Dare to Care were offered at a gallery in Helsinki, which we titled ‘On The Texture of Feelings’. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in the residency, as the only member of our collective who was ineligible for Creative Europe’s EU mobility grant (thanks very much, Brexit). So, I already had one song written, and another ‘pick me up’ song, ‘Betrayal in Your Eyes’ which I can just about claim has a tangential relevance to the theme of mental health; ‘Don’t you worry now it’s gonna be okay / you don’t have to smile for each and every day’. But I wanted to write something better – a song which I could incorporate into a workshop which would involve collaborative making - I didn't like the idea of just singing AT people…


Fortunately, the song came out immediately as I sat down at the piano (in the space of about an hour), and as I was writing it, I had the idea for the format of the workshop. Since attending several workshop at UAL, I have been finding ways to incorporate textiles and sewing into my practice. In the Thinking Through Stitching workshop I was particularly struck by a video shown to us by the tutor, Sukhwinder Sagoo-Reddy, of women in an Indian village, sat shoulder-to-shoulder, in a large group, embroidering “new life” into old rags. I was captivated by this idea of making something new from something old, making something beautiful out of something which is faded, mending something which is broken with care and creativity. I wanted this to be the central theme of the workshop / performance and so, the song lyrics which came out have stitching as a key motif.


My intention for the workshop is to perform the song and then invite participants to write on squares of blank white/cream fabric in coloured fabric markers (I haven’t yet decided what the prompt will be). The participants will then be asked to stitch their squares of fabric together using coloured embroidery threads – with the catch that they have to do it at the same time and therefore, figure out a way to support each other in bringing together their different perspectives / contributions to the dialogue.


I’ve titled the song, ‘A Thread of Empathy’ and the message focuses on recovering from emotional abuse; ‘There’s no protection from the harm that some can do, that some have done’; mending the damage done ‘in the darkness you have sewn’; and learning to be more resilient ‘there is strength in your weakness’. The key line which summarises the message of the song, naturally comes at the end and is repeated for emphasis, ‘You can learn from their hatred / How to be kind, how to be strong’, but with ‘their hatred’ removed from the repeated line, to shift the focus onto the positive message. Bad things happen to everyone, admittedly, some people shoulder their unfair burden of harmful relationships and experiences – but it’s important to learn from pain and suffering, otherwise it will destroy you.


I made a very rudimentary recording of the song, apologies for the duff notes as I haven’t quite got the melody figured out yet. The piano part is also not very interesting – just plonky chords – I will try to figure out something better later. The lyrics will also be revised in the coming weeks ahead of the trip to Bologna. Not least because the song is far too long – I need to cut out a significant number of lines and generally tidy it up – I will make another blog post with the revised version.  


Are You Listening?

Are you feeling, with your soul? Can you though?

Are you distracted?

Can you make your heart whole? Is that your goal?



The cruelty of words,

Can leave you scarred and so alone,

A patchwork of memories,

In the darkness you have sewn,

Each tattered fragment,

Stitched together, laid on your bed,

And as you dream,

Soothe the storm that’s in your head



There’s no protection,

From the harm, that some can do, that some have done,

It doesn’t matter, if you falter,

If you fall, you are not wrong,

So, take a moment, to remember,

And feel the peace, your time will come,

Know the strength, that’s in your weakness,

There is light, hope has not gone





I can teach you,

How to take a thread of empathy and let them be,

I can help you, to dry your eyes,

So, you can see, you have to let them be,

I can hear you,

All the pain that you feel, you have to let them be,

I can’t change you, but I can help you,

To be free, and let them be



Hope will heal you,

And make sense of what was done,

You can learn from their hatred,

How to be kind, how to be strong

You can learn,

How to be kind, how to be strong

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