For professional songwriters, there’s often a disconnect between the writing of the music and the audience’s experience of it. We like to tell ourselves that our music matters – that it makes a difference – but when we are writing it day after day inside the four walls of an office and handing it off to someone else to sing, we often miss the first-hand experience of seeing the effect it has on people.
But every so often, you get to see the music you write working its magic. And those are very special moments.
I’ve never seen a more powerful example of that than during my participation in therapeutic songwriter sessions with Operation Song. It’s a charity here in Nashville that pairs songwriters up with military veterans to write songs. My specific area of work is with female veterans who have survived military sexual assault.
Basically, I meet up with a veteran, she tells me her story, and within an hour or two we write her story into a song together. I record the song for her, and a few weeks later we meet up with fellow participants and all perform our songs for each other.
It’s hard. It’s really hard to hear some of the things these women go through, and it’s a lot of pressure knowing how important our song will be to the person I’m working with. It keeps me up at night thinking about it sometimes. But the crazy thing is that amazing things happen when you put these stories into song.
Songwriting by nature makes you think “big picture”. No matter what story you’re telling in a song, the process of writing it makes you look for a theme, a moral, a lesson, or some message you want to deliver. Sometimes songs are cries of anger or pain…sometimes they’re cries of triumph. They can be about how it feels to lose your power, or how it feels to reclaim it. Either way, there’s something about writing – and singing – a song that allows you to feel your emotions more deeply but also gives you new perspective on things.
One veteran I worked with told me, “This has lifted a huge weight off me…and I guess it’s because by writing a song, we put my story in a safe place so I don’t have to carry it around anymore.”
I write hundreds of songs a year, and sometimes it can be hard to find motivation to write the next one. But it’s experiences like this that make me keep picking that pen up.
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