The Story of Grief and Our Database of the Dead

On July 1st, 2020, The Holy Gasp presented Grief, a durational, bilingual choral performance written for 10 vocalists, 2 pianists, and percussion. The intention behind the piece was to fabricate a communal mourning ritual for anyone who had suffered the sorrows of losing a loved one.

Prior to the performance of Grief, the global public was invited to submit the names of their dead loved ones into our Database of the Dead. Each name entered into the Database was then inscribed, letter by letter, into a series of large scrolls by Rochelle Rubinstein. Those scrolls were then read aloud by Benjamin Hackman on the night of Grief while The Holy Gasp performed the same 8 bars of music ceaselessly for the entirety of the night, performing in both English and American Sign Language. The performance was designed to run from sunset to sunrise, and would not be considered complete until the sun had come up and every name had been read. In the end, 17,000 names were read aloud over the course of 9.5 hours.

About Grief, Artistic Director Benjamin Hackman had this to say:

Benjamin Hackman
Photo by Alex Gray, 2019.

“In the five years leading up to Grief, my father died of a heart attack; my therapist died of pancreatic cancer; my brother-in-law overdosed; my oldest friend hanged himself—then another friend died in a car accident, and my grandmother, God bless her, died of good ol’ fashion old age.

“Death is happening all over. Indeed, it always has. It is awkward, and painful, and it unites us all . In the midst of a global pandemic–at a time when police officers are still murdering black people across North America, and the unmarked graves of residential school children are being unearthed–I wonder if enough models exist in our culture to teach us how to support the grieving, and exemplify healthy ways for us to mourn. I wish to facilitate community and ritual in which it is normal to talk about death, and where people can witness grief and have their grief witnessed in return. I want to provoke an urgency for the living to interact with life, and for audiences (especially diverse audiences) to have shared emotional experiences.”

Our Dedication to Accessibility

Death and grieving effect every last living being. It is for this reason that we endeavored to make Grief accessible, and to accommodate differences in ability wherever possible. Grief was a bilingual performance, with vocals being performed in both English and American Sign Language. The live stream performance of Grief included closed captioning for the hearing impaired, and every effort continues to be made to make The Holy Gasp’s website and the Database Of The Dead as accessible as possible. The living discriminate against the disabled. But death does not. If you experience any obstacles to accessing any part of our website, please contact, and we will do our best to accommodate you.