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Musical Activism

Kelly Surette

May 18, 2015

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My student Corina and I had been trying to decide what she was going to sing for her school talent show, and if she was going to sing at all.  When we ultimately couldn’t reach a final decision, Corina finally broke down and told me the truth about her hesitations: she had been bullied.

The last time she had performed, some of her classmates made fun of her.  She was terrified to get up on stage again at the risk that she might be targeted as she had been before.  As her instructor, I left her lesson saddened by the fact that any student would feel they had to hide their talents in order to protect themselves from the teasing or bullying of fellow students.

Corina came into her next lesson with a plan that blew me away.  It was a true testament to her courage and strength of character.  She wrote a song about bullying, entitled “Over With,” and wanted to perform it for the talent show.  She had come up with the idea during a play date with one of her friends who had encouraged her to express her feelings about being bullied.  Corina wrote out the following lyrics:

By Corina Smith

I was told to be somebody else but I never listened
I kept going
People wanted to change me and who I was
But I kept going
If I had listened I would be so different
And let me tell you something

If you’re told to be somebody else don’t listen
I was torn apart when I was tricked, teased, and lied to
At least there was my friends by my side, so you should
Keep the friendships you get and never let them go
Everyday I would wonder what would happen
Then one day I didn’t let them stop me from telling them off
And when they stopped I was sol glad that I had
Someone there to help me from letting those words hurt me
And after that day, it was over with

Quickly, and with fervent excitement, Corina and I got to work on the piece.  Corina had a basic idea of how she wanted the melody to sound so she sang it, line by line, and I transcribed it on the piano.  As her instructor, it was important to me that the piece remain as authentic to Corina’s original vision as possible, and that my additions were minimal.  We stayed as true to her melody as we possibly could, adding in a few additional places here and there for repetition.  And we discussed the songwriting process in detail; acknowledging phrases where we could establish consistency in the melody.

To complete the writing process, we worked together to figure out which chords sounded best through trial-and-error, over which Corina had full creative supervision.  Finally, we recorded a backing track with piano that she could use for the performance.  We used GarageBand software on a MacBook to create the recording.

Corina was still scared to perform, but had discovered a newfound sense of liberation through her words and music.  She not only wanted to express her feelings about being bullied, but felt that her expression might help other students who have been in the same position.  Corina performed for the talent show and exceeded all expectations with her professionalism, bravery, and honest, open heart.  Her friends and fellow students came rushing up to her at the end, congratulating her on a job well done.  The piece was so well received that it was filmed by the principal and will be included in a session of Olveus, the school’s anti-bullying program.  Corina also shared her piece at The Real School of Music’s Songwriter’s Night in Andover, where she performed alongside other accomplished new songwriters.

Corina is proof that our craft as musicians should not only be used to help us become better performers, but also better people.  Music not only feeds the soul and expresses our feelings, but it also can be used to create awareness and reflect our beliefs.  I look at Corina and see a person who can change the world through her song: a true musical activist.