Documentary Songwriting Workshop

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Memoirs and documentary films – Facebook statuses, personal blogs, Instagram and Snapchat stories.  It seems like in the 21st century, there are innumerable platforms and ways in which we express ourselves and communicate the stories of our individual lives.  They are largely digital, they generally have a screen between the communicator and the listener.

But what if you could not only see someone’s face, but you could also feel their upbeat rhythm, hear his or her haunting melody or wistful tone?

Thanks to English Department Chair Caroline Rex-Waller, White Mountain students taking English III (and other interested students!) got to try their hand at a whole new method of expression and storytelling: Documentary Songwriting!

Over the summer, Caroline came across a workshop with the Push Farther Project, a group of storytellers and musicians who travel to schools and other organizations to help document people’s experiences and emotions through song.  White Mountain English students were immensely lucky to have Malcolm (a versatile guitarist) and Chloe (a wonderful singer) come to campus and help lead a workshop where students could write and then sing ballads crafted from their own memories and personal stories.

Caroline’s English class dedicated a week to this project, and by the end of the workshop students had songs written about their own lives!  

The workshop consisted of three major steps:

  1. The communicator spends a few minutes telling a story, out loud.  The story is transcribed by someone else who can record its conversational aspect and rhetorical flow.
  2. The transcribed piece is then broken down into song verse and stripped of narrative excess.  Students then pick a few of their favorite lines, and make those the chorus of the song.
  3. Students and workshop leaders then discuss the feeling of the story, and create a melody that fits with the narrative tone. Malcolm plays with the melody on his guitar for several moments. After a few practice rounds between the singers and songwriters, the song is ready to go!

Click here to watch a few of the songs sung by groups of students, as well as some videos that recorded the process of creating these songs.

Click here to view a photo album of our students during the creative process of creating songs about their own lives.

Thank you to Malcolm and Chloe for coming to campus!  The videos in the link above certainly speak volumes to how engaged our students became with this process.  At least for a few moments, during the workshop’s final performance session, many of our students discovered a powerful new mechanism to connect about the moments and memories that have helped shape the people they have become.  

By Eliot Taft, Assistant Director of Admission and Communication

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