Story-to-Song (STS) is a method of songwriting that takes a spoken story and turns it into a song. A songwriting guide works with a songwriting participant(s) to shape their spoken story into a song. The final product is a song that gives voice to an experience from a person’s life and can create empathy and healing for all who listen.
A Brief History of the Method
STS has seen many iterations in its creative tenure. The earliest iteration of this method was termed Autoethnographic Songwriting in 2009 by Malcolm Brooks of Rockport, Maine, who began experimenting with musical avenues for overcoming moments of creative block in musical composition by beginning with a personal story.
I worked with Malcolm during our time as doctoral students in the Prescott College Sustainability Education doctoral program in Prescott, Arizona. In our collaborative research and musical exploration, we began to demonstrate that the method could be passed on from one composer to another and could also become a live performance of the creative process.
The method evolved in its form and application in our work together. I came up with the idea of breaking the method into its parts: story and song, and thus the name Story-to-Song came into being. Malcolm and I demonstrated many applications for this unique method could be employed: songwriting from oral histories, workshops presented with a volunteer participant from a live audience, songwriting via podcast, with groups of adults and children, and beyond. Our individual dissertations explored different elements of the songwriting method.
Malcolm’s dissertation: Autoethnography of a Composer with a New Composing Method
Marieke’s dissertation: Becoming Sustainable: An Authoethnography in Story and Song
Post-Doc (circa 2013), the idea of Story-to-Song as a business was born when the proposal was accepted by EntrepreneurshipforAll (EforAll), an entrepreneur accelerator program based out of Lowell, Massachusetts. This profound and educational experience provided opportunities to learn methods, language, and networking for the burgeoning entrepreneurs.
Along with a gaggle of songwriting sherpas, Malcolm has continued his work with the company Documentary Songwriter. Their focus is to create beauty from the unique subject matter derived from the human experience.
I have continued my own work with Story-to-Song from my home in Brussels, Belgium, exploring songwriting with refugees and immigrants from around the world, as well as combining music and movement in the practice of yoga.
Story-to-Song is a powerful and poignant experience for those who participate in the songwriting process and those who listen to the finished song. This kind of songwriting creates space for vulnerability, the sharing of stories, and emotional catharsis. While it is not intended as music therapy, there is often a therapeutic and healing that occurs as a result of the creative process. Participants have communicated the experience of clarity from working through sometimes difficult life stories and deriving meaning from those events.