I was twelve when I composed my first full-length piece on the piano—it was moody, and emotional, in a minor key that modulated suddenly to another key and back and ended in a storm of arpeggios. The whole process had been thrilling, but when I played it for my teacher, he raised his eyebrow and sighed heavily, taking off his glasses to rub his forehead. When he finally spoke, it was to ask me if there was something dark in my soul that inspired me to write such an emotional piece. I had no idea what to say. He never asked me to compose a piece again, and I felt effectively like the gatekeeper to the world of the creators had closed the portal in front of me. I was crushed, and I put it out of my mind, returning to the world of classical music to play the compositions of the masters and earn my BA in piano. It was a stunning world, with transcendent music, but rigid, with little room to stray into creativity or personal interpretations without leaning into heresy—like a closed canon.
It wasn’t until I lived in Portland that the portal opened again; this time I opened it for myself. My life had deconstructed, and was reconstructing, and these songs started flooding through me, often while I was driving. My phone was soon filled with voice memos and melody fragments, and every scrap of paper around my apartment was scribbled with ideas and verses. I began singing and playing shows around in the city with my band mate, and though all around me was falling away, I was happier and more alive than I had ever been in my life. I felt like I could breathe and be me for the first time in my life. I was teaching at the time, and I began to show my music students how to compose and songwrite and saw them manifesting that same joy and satisfaction in their art. Their pride in songs they’d mastered had been significant, but their excitement and pride in what they could create was tremendous—it was a whole new level of meaning.
I moved cross-country and began working in the largest music studio in town. There was a child there who had been with four teachers in the studio before she got to me. She had no interest in what she had been taught to that point or lessons in general, and had begun to misbehave to the point to where the studio had no more teachers to pass her off to if she and I couldn’t make it work. I saw a strong, free spirit in her, and suspected she was a creator. We started writing lyrics and melodies together and she began to thrive. After a few weeks, she started coming to lessons fifteen minutes early, to see if we could start now because she was dying to show me her idea for a new verse. Some of the songs were about her grandpa who was passing away, some were child-like and joyful about dancing through the rain and watching the stars at night and making new friends and the ups and downs of middle school—I loved them all. She became one of my best students, and one of the hardest to say goodbye to when I moved.
I was writing with all my students at that point, because I wanted them to know how to access the creativity within them. I worked with stroke survivors, and teenagers, and children with mental and physical disabilities, showing them a way to speak their realities and transform pain into art. Last year, I was asked to speak at a Journey to Justice conference in Nottingham England, to use my personal compositions and songs as examples of how to use poetry and music to affect change. I spoke to the students about the process of writing empathetic lyrics, and collaborating with other artists, and encouraged them to lean into their creative voices in their endeavors to wake the world. It was the first time I’d done something like that on a larger scale, and I realized how much it was needed, and how many young people needed to discover the power of their artistic voices.
That was the pivot—after that, I knew I wanted to spend as much of my life as possible in this creative world, inviting others in; I wanted to have a Songwriting Studio where expression, creativity, and collaboration drove everything; I wanted to create a space where I could teach people not just to be musicians, but to be artists in their own right.
That desire has become this studio.