“The greatest gift you can give the world is to tell your truth.”
~ Cheryl Walters
Guiding Song is the creative work of Marieke Slovin Lewis. She co-developed a method of songwriting she termed Story-to-Song (STS) during her time as a PhD student in the Prescott College Sustainability Education Program in Prescott, Arizona. This songwriting method became an integral component of her study into how to create self-sustainability.
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.
STS 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. There is often healing that occurs as a result of moving through the creative process. Participants have communicated the experience of clarity from working through sometimes difficult life stories, deriving meaning from those events, and being able to share their experience through the finished song.
Everyone is a story.
Every story is a song.
Every song is a journey.
Everyone has a story. Each person walks a unique path. They have value just by virtue of existing. Sharing a story can be empowering and cathartic. Guiding Song is a folk music tradition that gives voice to the human experience by giving people the opportunity to shape their stories into songs.
Every person is a culmination of thousands of experiences over the course of a human life. Some of these experiences become memories we hold onto because they affected us in some way, either joyful or painful. While it may seem that the world is becoming smaller through the rise of technology and social media, many people feel increasingly isolated and alone. The act of sharing our stories is a way to transcend isolation and fear in order to build empathy, connection, and understanding. Sharing our stories is a form of resistance. It is empowering, giving a voice to those who may feel they are helpless to change their life path.
There are myriad ways to give voice to the human experience. One method is through art. Art, particularly in the form of music, is a universal language. Art as poetry, story, and music can evoke emotion and open the heart and mind. Writing a song from a poem, which communicates a personal story, is a way to use the universal language of music to bring people together and build empathy and understanding. People who have never met can make a person connection to one another. A person on one side of the world can listen the song of a stranger and see them as a familiar person, moving through the world, seeking love and connection.
To write music, Marieke uses a method called Story-to-Song (STS), which begins with a spoken or written story that is then shaped into a song. It is most often the collaborative work of two people. One person shares a story that holds meaning for them. The other person acts as a creative, musical guide. She has used this method to write songs from her own experiences, as well as from oral and written histories.
Though the journey from story to song is unique to each experience, the method follows these general steps:
- A story is shared in words and phrases. The guide may capture the story through a recording application, a document on a computer, or old-fashioned pen and paper. The person(s) sharing the story may also choose to write the words, a process can be empowering in and of itself.
- The guide works one-on-one with the storyteller to search for the universal message from the story. This is a theme, universal concept, emotion, or call to action from the human experience that all people can relate to. This theme is communicated specifically in a one line refrain that is repeated at the end of each verse or in a chorus, which is repeated between verses. One participant referred to the chorus as “the soul of the story.” People from all life experiences can relate to the universal concept being expressed through the chorus. In this way, whether or not they have been through the exact experience being communicated in the song, they can still feel a personal connection. It is through the personal connection that empathy and understanding is created for another person they may never have met.
- The lyrics for the verses are shaped from the original words to communicate the events of the story as they unfold. The verses are action-oriented, meaning they are often expressed through the use of verbs to illustrate what happened in the story. The melody is structured to follow a pattern that repeats from one stanza to the next with slight variations and a rise in tension prior to the refrain or chorus.
- A bridge may be developed to communicate an element of the story that holds particular tension (the melody echoes this tension). Resolution is derived in returning to the chorus as the song draws to a close and thus a return to the melodic resolution as well.
To read a more in-depth description of the STS method, visit “The Story-to-Song Method”