A difficult song to write

How do you write a song about the Holocaust?

This is a question I asked myself when I was approached by a woman who wanted to give her mother, a Holocaust survivor, the gift of a song.

My response was to welcome to the opportunity, but inside the seeds of doubt began to take root. Was I capable of writing a song from such a deeply meaningful and complex story?

When the time came to begin working on the song, I watched myself go through the motions of composition in the STS tradition. Typing the woman’s story (9 pages, single-spaced); shaping the story in prose; going through the text to discover different meanings and try to find one with the kind of universal emotion that many people may be able to connect with.

And then the melody. I had a recording of the woman humming a Yiddish tune from her childhood. She had repeated the notes over and over again, and I had sat listening. They were sad notes. Minor notes. Ones that reminded me of songs I had found haunting as a child when my family went to temple on the high holidays.

I was also worried about my own emotional state. With each passing year, I become more and more sensitive to pain and suffering. Could I handle the emotional intensity of writing a song like this? I immerse myself in the story, listen for notes that come from within. Then, I sit with the story and sing variations of melodies until one that feels right reveals itself. This process can takes weeks and even months.

So, I made a choice. I gave myself permission to just write a song. It may not be the most powerful song, but it will still honor and give voice to a story of survival and hope.

My hope is that this song may speak to you in some way. If it does, I invite you to share your thoughts.

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