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.
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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