“Oh, How the Wind Can Blow” – Songwriting Workshop at Heritage House at the Market
Project Goal: Introduce the Songwriting Works process to Assisted Living residents and create a demonstration video for the funder.
Location: Heritage House at the Market, Seattle, WA
Background: Session took place several months after Hurricane Katrina
Program Mode: Signature Songwriting Workshop (90 minutes)
Outcomes: 18 elders engaged with each other throughout the 90 minute session. Collaborative songwriting and singing of original song “Oh How the Wind Can Blow” included 3 verses and a chorus with additional spoken word coda. Songwriting Works was invited to return for future workshops. Case Study published in “The Songwriting Works Model: Enhancing Brain Health and Fitness through Collaborative Musical Composition and Performance” as illustration of SW’s 8 Princles of Creative Engagement applied to a songwriting session.
Excerpt* from “The Songwriting Works Model: Enhancing Brain Health and Fitness through Collaborative Musical Composition and Performance”:
At Heritage House at the Market, a Providence Health and Services assisted living residence in downtown Seattle, a first time songwriting session takes place on a sunny afternoon. Most participants have memory loss; some advanced hearing loss. The facilitator, SW founder Judith-Kate Friedman, has been asked to come in “cold” for the purpose of filming a demonstration of initial impacts. She has no information about individuals and little about the culture of the facility.
Guided by Judith-Kate’s questions and comments, participants’ thoughts, melodies, and feelings are laid out on the table for all to share.
She circles the room, greeting each person with a handshake: a moment to connect one to one before the formal program. As the first hour unfolds, the room becomes more lively while participants warm up to the prospect of creating a song together. Guided by Judith-Kate’s questions and comments, participants’ thoughts, melodies, and feelings are laid out on the table for all to share.
JK: “We’re going to get a chance to write a song… What should we write about?”
Participant E: “You always hear something about the eye of the storm.”
JK: “Okay— The eye of the storm…(scribes)”
Participant F: “That’s the best”
JK: “F says ‘the eye of the storm’ that’s the best. Is that a topic that we should discuss…and…write something about?”
Participant G: “It’s just the most awful thing you’ve ever been through. You can’t stop anything.”
Participant H: “Life is filled with chaos….No jobs…and people are hungry.”
Facilitation that “levels the playing field” opens the way for honest interchange. Unexpected inspirations are welcomed. Personal stories are received with sensitivity; shared material is held in confidence and recounted anonymously unless participants (or their guardians) agree to be publicly credited. With repeated participation in a workshop or series, individuals often become more willing to try new things (give input, improvise melody, reveal life history). Likewise the group “tone” becomes more inclusive; peers begin to uphold principles of access and inclusion for one another (Friedman 2009).
Participants learn to honor, hear and recognize their own and the “group voice” as facilitators affirm originality aloud.
Twenty-five minutes into the session, E has recounted her personal experience as a tornado survivor. G has noted that she is from New Orleans. It is now clear that although Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast nine months earlier, the topic has evoked feelings about that disaster and its aftermath.
Participants learn to honor, hear and recognize their own and the “group voice” as facilitators affirm originality aloud. In a society that rarely assumes that a group (of “non-musicians”) can make good music from scratch, this approach allows fledgling creativity to develop and grow.
Everyone has a unique viewpoint. By capturing verbatim speech and melodies as they arise, and testing for group consensus, songs accurately reflect their makers.
JK to F, one of the most engaged in the group: “What do you think the eye of the storm feels like?”
F, quietly: “Oh… Tossed about in life?”
JK scribing, speaking slowly, amplifies: “Tossed about in life.”
A flurry of responses follow this rhythmic phrase. The whiteboard is soon full of lyric ideas.
Reciprocity is key to achieving inclusion and consensus in songwriting. What is good for participants must have meaning for the musician-facilitator and vice versa; thus, keeper lines, song sections and final works are determined. Evaluation of process, song and program occur instantaneously as participants augment and edit—and facilitators “course correct”—as they go.
With ten minutes left in this one-time session, JK moves the group toward completion. She gestures to the easel, recapping collected ideas and phrases yet to be used in the lyric. “Faith” and “brings us home” get strong response.
JK (offering a pairing of words): “The faith that we have brings us home.”
The group approves. JK quickly solicits new words (see underlined below) in the manner of a zipper song. The lyric is put in sequence by consensus. Due to shortness of time this coda is
spoken rather than sung:
JK: “The trust that we have brings us home.
The faith that we have brings us home.
The love that we have brings us home.
All, singing: “Oh how the wind can blow.
Oh how the wind can blow, wow.
Oh how the wind can blow—Wow!”
* © 2010 Judith-Kate Friedman. All rights reserved.