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Talkin’ Bout a Heartbeat Session

November 16, 2022 | By Snee Howard

When Sarah Hope organized an Arts For Life fundraiser and recruited colleagues to volunteer to help pack art kits in 2014, she was captivated by the energy and passion of the staff and board. Then, in 2015, she gave birth to Solomon who spent his first 106 days in the NICU.

“We knew, given his start in life, we would be in hospitals throughout his life,” says Sarah. “Solomon came into this world 16 weeks early at 1lb. 4oz. He is a divine spirit that has a heart of gold, a ginormous smile, and truly loves this life. He faces very difficult events in his life with courage, bravery, and fierceness.”

When Solomon was three years old, Arts For Life re-entered the Hopes’ lives, this time as “the greatest gift” during a lengthy hospital stay. After several days of inpatient treatment that left Solomon drained, Music Teacher Melissa Hyman knocked on his hospital room door.

“Melissa came by our room and offered to play a song on her guitar and sing to us. Our family is very connected to music, and as she began playing his eyes and spirit lifted,” Sarah recalls, “He was visibly coming to life before our eyes. Melissa brought my child back to life and back into his body and mind. The four songs that she played us were the best medicine for not only Solomon but for myself.

Since then, Solomon and his family have created art, music, stories and more with Arts For Life. Arts For Life has been present at every one of Solomon’s hospital stays and many clinic visits.  At Mission Children’s Pediatric Unit, Olson Huff Children’s Specialty Center, the Epilepsy Study Clinic at Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Hospital, and Levine Children’s Hospital, “from music to crafts, coloring to puppet making, Arts For Life has provided a release and sweetness to every visit.”

The Hopes continued to engage with Arts For Life, witnessing its impact on Solomon with each arts experience.

“Arts For Life is a part of what allows him to remain a child and tap into his strength when in hard appointments and hospital stays.”

Their relationship with Melissa deepened through shared connections to the Asheville music industry. Melissa is a professional musician and frequently tours with her bands, The Moon and You and Cowboy Judy, and Solomon’s dad Nik is a professional drummer.

“Solomon’s favorite thing in the world is to watch his daddy play on the “Big Ole Stage” as he calls it, and in the studio,” says Sarah.

After a prolonged hiatus, Arts For Life’s Heartbeat Sessions were set to resume in Summer 2022, and Solomon and his family seemed to be the absolutely perfect candidates for its revival.

Heartbeat Sessions builds on the music education and enrichment Arts For Life provides in hospitals through this unique experience that connects the participating young musician with our larger community and thriving music industry by creating one-of-a-kind musical moments: professionally recorded songs set the rhythm of their heartbeats.

“Syncing our own heartbeats up with the heartbeat of a child who has suffered through difficult circumstances,” details Melissa, who started the program in 2016. “Using the universal language of music to help us empathize with community members who often feel isolated in the world of doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, scans and prognoses – in this way, the Heartbeat Sessions can be truly transformative.”

Over fifty professional musicians have contributed their expertise to the program since its inception. Each young participant gets to choose a favorite song or write an original for the recording session.

While choosing a song to sync to their heartbeat recording session can be a tricky decision for some of the young artists, there was no deliberating for Solomon. Solomon and his parents knew that it would be “Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution,” or, as Solomon calls it “The Run, Run, Run Song” by Chase Me Trap Man. A longstanding favorite of seven-year-old Solomon, it’s played 3.5 times every day on his way to school.

Shortly after Melissa recorded Solomon’s heartbeat with a digital stethoscope (one of Solomon’s most memorable parts of the entire process), a group of local musicians met at Echo Mountain Recording Studios, the longtime partner of the Heartbeat Sessions program, to record Solomon’s song.

For everyone, the highlight of the day was Solomon’s arrival.

“When I rolled him into the sound booth, everyone exploded into cheers. Solomon LIT up and he felt so much joy,” recounts Sarah, “His smile was glowing.”

Solomon’s favorite parts of the recording session were “playing on my Daddy’s drums and singing into the microphone.” Sound Engineer Clay Miller mixed his vocals and drumming into the final recording, adding an extra special touch of Solomon to the song.

After each Heartbeat Session recording session is finalized, the family gets to hear the track before it’s released. For the Hopes, the emotional impact was wonderfully overwhelming.

“As a mother, I would say that hearing your child’s heartbeat alone is magical,” explains Sarah, “Hearing your child’s favorite song and watching them light up while musicians serenade them is indescribable. The recording is a gift that I will treasure for all my days.”

Weeks later, Solomon still talks daily about being in the studio for his Heartbeat Session. “Mama,” he says, “let’s listen and dance to that song again.”

For Sarah, remembering this experience with Solomon has led her to realize “the gravity of this gift.”

“So much of our life is encompassed in medical facilities, having tests done, and receiving treatments,” she says, “Most of the normal side of life with trips, adventures, and typical kid’s activities are not in our life. Being on the receiving end of this project has meant the world to me and my husband. It was as great as a trip to Disney, and it has left us with a lifetime of memories.”

“Arts for Life has given us a bit of a normal childhood in the hardest of places and times,” Sarah continues, “They offer levity when the world has come crashing on our lives and spirits. They offer laughter and softness when we feel pressed. They offer Solomon a break from sitting in his hospital bed all day. We are just one family of likely thousands or more that have received the gifts from Arts for Life. Their reach is far beyond what they could ever capture in data or even pictures. They reach into the hearts of children and their parents when they need it the most.”

Solomon’s Heartbeat Session was recorded and mixed at Echo Mountain Recording Studios and features local musicians Debrissa McKinney, Melissa Hyman, Nik Hope, Ross Montsinger, Ryan Burns, and Ryan Furstenberg. Sound engineering and mixing was done by Clay Miller; videography and editing by Jason Mencer.