The woman who wrote the song from a couple of Mondays ago was very inspiring. She was reticent to sing, as most people tend to be. I had asked the group already if anyone was feeling brave and the men had shied away entirely. She wasn’t sure what to sing, but as soon I started playing an A chord, she jumped in. Then suddenly, she really started singing and an entire melody began to take shape. It was incredible to witness her come alive. She completely took over the songwriting process, adding words and phrases and overseeing the creation.
She left to get her husband and daughter and other people came who speak only French, so we translated the song line by line and sang in French. When she returned, we sang the song through in English and then French.
Generally, things begin slowly with poetry and songwriting. We arrive, set our things on a bench and proceed to hang a piece of poster paper up on the brick wall. Most times, there is at least one resident, who is thankfully taller than my poetry volunteer partner and me, to help secure the paper. Then, we look up poems to share and begin chatting with folks as they arrive or stop by to say hello. The number of people who show up can depend on the weather and the day. The residents are busy with the stuff of life—meetings with social workers, doctor’s appointments, jobs, classes, etc. – so poetry and songwriting may not be first on their list of things to do.
On this afternoon, the session had begun in large part with a coloring session by many adorable small children, who sat and stood contentedly coloring on the first piece of paper we secured to the brick wall.
It was for this reason that I couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned around while performing our song and saw a crowd had formed and moms and babies and children were all smiling and playing my percussion instruments. I had been so focused on leading people in singing that I did not notice all of these people joining in with instrument or just watching, listening, and smiling. It was a heartwarming scene, and my heart was certainly full to be a part of it.
Another element of the day that was truly uplifting was the dialogue that ensued with a couple of residents who were primarily French speaking. They had joined in after the song was mostly written, and together with the help of another volunteer, we had translated the song line by line into French and completed a refrain.
As the song came into being in a second language, they remarked on the lyrics and the fact that it seemed like a real song, one that could already have been written. I drew their attention to the way the process has unfolded by pointing out the different words and phrases from the first piece of paper that the woman who had been the main composer of the song had drawn together to create this more finished piece. It was really incredible to engage in this dialogue and to see the light in the eyes of these men as they began to understand this method of songwriting and to see how seemingly unrelated words and phrases on one piece of paper could become a song on another.
They walked back and forth between the two pieces of poster papers, shaking their heads in amazement and exclaiming over the fact that this was a real song and the lyrics were so impressive.
Then, we sang. I mean, really sang. These guys sang with all of their heart and soul, and this energy they brought seemed to draw people from all over the chateau. When the woman returned with her husband and child, we sang through the song several times all together, first in English and then in French, and then repeating both languages.
With voices united and to the sounds of shakers, a cowbell, hands clapping, and feet tapping, we sang.
And for as long as I am able, I will continue to sing and to lead people in song. what better way to bring us all together and to create something beautiful and hopeful in the wake of so much suffering?