Song Cycle by Joshua Hill

Joshua Hill and his father Greg, who lives with dementia, collaborate on live multimedia experiences that showcase how everyone can make music and express themselves creatively.
Joshua and Greg Hill

How would you describe your art project?

Song Cycle is an ongoing multimedia piece that began in 2020 after my father, Greg Hill, was diagnosed with dementia. I borrowed some cameras from a friend and after unsuccessfully attempting to interview my father, I organically discovered the powerful connection between music and dementia. Our music experiments are improvised, weave in fragmented memories from Greg’s life, and allow us to process our connection and grief. I was so inspired by the power of the music we were making that I set out to create a series of songs, the names and formats of which are inspired by traditional classical song cycles and Gavin Bryar’s work “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” 

There are famous examples of musicians, like Glen Campbell or Tony Bennett, who were capable of creating music long after their mental faculties had declined. What separates Greg from other dementia musicians is that my father was not a performing musician before he was diagnosed. My father’s first public performance was at REDCAT in the Walt Disney Complex. This adds powerful commentary to the music and dementia discourse because it highlights the potential for creative expression in every individual, and it also shows that, with the appropriate framing, anyone is capable of creating art at the highest level. 

Since 2020, Greg has performed at REDCAT, The Tank Center For Sonic Arts — a 70 foot tall steel structure with cathedral-like reverb, an unofficial residency at Roden Crater — a multi-million dollar large scale art installation outside his home of Flagstaff, Ariz., and The Amargosa Opera House — a crumbling hand-painted theater on the edge of Death Valley. 

Due to Greg’s decline, we no longer perform with him publicly. Long-term future outputs for Song Cycle include a touring theatrical show, a documentary, and art installations.

What was your inspiration?

Right before Greg was diagnosed, the mother of one of my friends had passed away. At the time, a piece of advice this friend had given me was “document everything.” I followed that advice and that’s how Song Cycle got started. Once I personally saw the power music had with dementia, it connected my music to a greater purpose.

I personally love making music with my dad, it gave me a new way to connect with him. And once I started to share materials, it organically grew into new and exciting opportunities that we could share. 

Greg Hill in the studio recording with Joshua.
Greg Hill in the studio recording with Joshua.

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

Working with dementia has deepened my respect for music and for how foundational music is to being human. It has inspired a desire to focus on community music-making in my art practice. 

In regards to aging, this project has taught me how unprepared the medical system is at dealing with dementia. Supporting music-making for people with memory loss and their care partners can be such a powerful tool in dealing with the day-to-day challenges of dementia care. 

This time with my father and dementia will be the focus of my work for the next many years.  

Joshua and Greg Hill
Joshua and Greg Hill

How has your work been received?

What’s been beautiful about sharing this work is finding connections through people who share a similar experience. My director and creative partner, Genevieve Fowler, and I connected through her experience with her grandmother, and that’s essentially how the team has been forming. 

Is your work dedicated to anyone?

My mom, Maureen Russell. She is the most amazing person I know and without her none of this would be possible.

Find more about Joshua Hill’s work by following him on Instagram and YouTube.

Joshua and Greg Hill write a song together, interwoven with interviews and memories from the Hill family.

The Dementia Arts Spotlight series describes works of art that focus on memory loss, or artistic programs that inspire creativity in those living with dementia of all kinds.  Spotlights are submitted by artists or program leaders eager to share their work and their experiences.  To submit your work for a Spotlight, fill out this form.

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