What is Guiding Song?
Guiding Song is the creative work of Marieke Slovin Lewis. Marieke is a folk musician, writer, yogi, and editor. She uses a method of songwriting I call Story-to-Song (her) to guide songs into the world. Marieke originally developed STS with a colleague during my time as a doctoral student between the years 2009 and 2013. Since earning my PhD in Sustainability Education, she has gone on to use the Story-to-Song method in her work in the United States and in Europe.
Marieke created the organization Guiding Song in 2015. Through Guiding Song, she has realized several projects, including writing dozens of migration songs written with refugees and asylum seekers in Brussels, Belgium and publishing the book, “On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration.” Marieke continues to write songs using the Story-to-Song method with individuals and groups.
Why Guiding Song?
Every person is comprised of many thousands of stories.
Every story is a song.
Every song is a journey.
We are musical beings. Our bodies respond to rhythm and melody. We tap our feet and sway our bodies without thinking. It is instinctual, part of our genetic makeup.
We each walk a unique path and have many stories to share. All have value, just as every person has value simply 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.
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. 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.
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”