Written by Anna Delaney, AMTAS Parliamentarian
“The darkness only exists in the shade of the light. Your shadows will hide away once you know you are bright”.
It’s rare that I manage to finish a song once I’ve started writing it. The only exceptions I’ve noticed are when they’re due as assignments for various classes or if they have a specific purpose in the near future. I often get too focused on each word, each measure, each note being absolutely perfect, not allowing myself to revise. So I’m left with a notebook of half-finished sentences, inspiration leaving as soon as it’s struck, gathering dust and lost amidst the piles of responsibilities in my life.
It wasn’t until I finished my first proper song (yes, for a class assignment) that I realized how reflective the songwriting process can be, particularly as a form of insight into your own self-esteem and habits. Even more than that, though, it made me consider my journey as a student music therapist. What populations would be better suited for me, how to better avoid burnout, how to better understand my own mental state based on the themes I was writing about and genres I was exploring. And perhaps most importantly: how to process my own emotions through songwriting.
To me, songwriting is one of the most vulnerable forms of creative expression. You have the ability to share your innermost thoughts and feelings through carefully shaped melodic structures and lyrical choices. I suppose that is part of what makes it so difficult for me since, even though I experience emotions very profoundly, verbalizing them can often be nearly impossible. And this realization has truly made me think: if songwriting is such a daunting task for me as a student music therapist, how much more so must it be for clients with significantly less musical experience?
I have been keeping this question in my mind as I have not only continued writing songs, but as I’ve reflected on lyrics from my past, and two things stuck out to me. First, most of my lyrics tend to be incredibly emotionally charged, written during periods of intense feeling. And second, these emotionally charged pieces are always left unfinished. In my mind, this could mean that the act of writing these lyrical snippets was enough for me to fully process the intense emotions I was feeling at the time. On the other hand, though, part of me believes that the state of vulnerability needed to continue writing these lyrics is fleeting, meaning there is a strong chance they will never get finished.
And that is okay.
My insight through my own songwriting has made me aware of my strong tendency to strive for perfection. Whether it be through having ‘perfect’ relationships with everybody I meet, or writing the ‘perfect’ song. What I see in my writing, however, shows the self-destructive nature of my own habits, and reveals the turmoil that results from attempting to achieve an impossible goal.
There is such a drastic shift between “Living your life catering to the perceptions of the rest/All the while not permitted to acknowledge your success” and “Don’t you get butterflies when you realize you’re in love with yourself?” Both of which being things I wrote within the same semester. The main difference, however, was that the second lyric arose organically when I was taking a moment for myself. Letting myself breathe.
Everybody’s experience with songwriting will look incredibly different, but upon a closer look it can truly make you reconsider your perception of yourself. Songwriting can be intimidating, absolutely, but it can help make you aware of things which you otherwise might never have known.
So go write a song! Or even a line. It’ll pay you back tenfold if you give it some time.
Written by Tess Vreeland, MT-BC, NICU-MT, AMTAS Secretary
While music therapists’ skills are largely transferrable and board-certified music therapists are equipped to work with most populations, some vulnerable settings, such as the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), require additional training. Music therapy can be impactful for patients and families with premature infants when appropriate interventions are facilitated by an MT-BC with the credentials NICU-MT.
The primary two evidence-based interventions used in the NICU are known as Multimodal Neurologic Enhancement and the Pacifier Activated Lullaby (PAL®️). Multimodal Neurologic Enhancement is a progression incorporating auditory, tactile, and vestibular stimulation aimed to increase tolerance to environmental stimuli for premature infants. This is important to premature infants due to the overstimulating environment of the NICU and the procedures they are experiencing. The Pacifier Activated Lullaby or PAL®️ is a device that uses contingent music as reinforcement to promote the development and strengthening of the non-nutritive suck. This is impactful for infants in the NICU and supports their developmental milestones. These are just two of many interventions a NICU music therapist can facilitate.
In order to work with infants in the NICU, one must take steps to become certified through The National Institute for Infant & Child Medical Music Therapy. This training includes a NICU-MT class, held in person or virtually, a hands-on fieldwork component, and an exam. CMTE credits are also offered for obtaining the certification. More information can be found at https://music.fsu.edu/Music-Research-Centers/NICU-MT/ or @nicu_mt_institute on Instagram!
Written by Sydney Winders, MT-BC, AMTAS President-Elect
Released in 1972, “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, is a soulful anthem. This track is listed as number five on the album Still Bill. “Lean On Me” is categorized under the singer-songwriter, soul music, R&B, and funk genres. Lyrics to this song can be found here.
In 2006, American Songwriter conducted an interview with Withers. When asked about the meaning of this song he responded, “The consistent kind of love is that kind that will make you go over and wipe mucus and saliva off somebody’s face after they become brain-dead,” he said. “Romantic love, you only wanna touch people because they’re pretty and they appeal to you physically. The more substantial kind of love is when you want to touch people and care for them when they’re at their worst,” (American Songwriters, 2021). Due to the nature of the simply beautiful melody, this message of authentic love has been uplifting many individuals.
Song themes that connect to what Withers describes as “more substantial love” include support, connection, community, forgiveness, friendship, trust, and caring. “Lean On Me” is an appropriate song to facilitate a song discussion / lyric analysis of these themes. Generally, the music and meaning of this tune could be accessible to many individuals and groups.
Additionally, “Lean On Me” has been known as an educational children's song and Black nationalism anthem (Genius, 2023).
Beviglia, J. (2021, August 2). Bill Withers, “Lean on me.” American Songwriter. https://americansongwriter.com/bill-withers-lean-on-me/
Bill Withers – Lean On Me. Genius. (2023). https://genius.com/Bill-withers-lean-on-me-lyrics
Hello, AMTAS! My name is Tess Vreeland, and I’m your secretary for the 2023 year. The purpose of this blog is to provide updates on AMTA regions, provide informative tools and information for furthering music therapy student careers, and promote collaboration among music therapy students across America. If you have any questions or any proposals regarding the blog, feel free to email me!
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