Week 2 (June 18) by Erica & Amy

Week 2: Brainstorming, Storytelling, Song Structure, and Lyrics

The room we’re in is really loud, even though most of us are meeting for the first time—which, well, speaks volumes. 

At Isabella Geriatric Center this week, we packed one room with 24 community members (10 nursing home residents and 14 AHRC participants, who are adults with developmental disabilities), along with 12 Music Corps members placed at these organizations.

Music Corps member Natalie kicked off the session with the theater exercise Do Like Me. We all gathered in a circle and each person chose a hand movement to represent themselves. One member strummed an imaginary guitar, another waved her hands in the air, and the rest of the group copied every movement. There were laughs and smiles all around.

Humans in Harmony intern Gideon gave an introduction to lyric-writing and song structure: thinking about rhyme, song structure, how to get ideas out and free-write, and centering a theme. Humans in Harmony intern Ann also shared her own method of songwriting, based on a songwriting course she took in college.

After the presentation, we broke out into groups of five, which were mostly based on the internship placements of Music Corps members. Staff members from AHRC and the Isabella Center also helped facilitate  discussions and lyric-writing.


There was an ease of conversation, of intensity and dedication of eye contact, of group sharing and participation, and of smiles and laughter. Some were starting to sing together in chorus, while others were having conversations about personal interests or ideas for verses.

Music Corps member Chadley loved working with her group, whose members are part of the band Zulu P: “They really loved talking about their mission, which was that they just love the sense of family in the group and making their audience happy.”

Another Corps member pointed out the role of family in her group’s ideas about support and giving back: “Family is incredibly important to them, particularly relationships with siblings. It seems that what is most important to them about these relationships is the sense of support, care, and togetherness they feel when with family. Many of them express desires to be able to help their family in the same way their family helps them, a sense of mutuality in care.”

After about 30 minutes of workshopping in small groups, we gathered together to share what we had created. One group sang a completed verse, another read their newly written lyrics, and others shared what they had learned about each other. Our community members are equal parts performers and storytellers.

At the end of the session, Music Corps members gathered around a small table and Gideon opened up the group discussion with a prompt for reflection: “What did you learn about your community members?” 

We spent about five minutes writing. Music Corps member Sebastian opened with the thought of connecting to those who were different yet shared so many similarities and skills: “Each one of them has complex interests that are not only limited to music but also many other facets of life, including religion and ideology.”

Others discussed the songwriting process: how it was easier to write for a form of connection but also the difficulties of respecting the story without imposing upon it. One Music Corps member working with geriatric residents reflected, “Sitting there speaking to them, I imagined such vivid and full lives, and could almost see scenes from the years gone by.”

During this session, we learned that the most enriching parts were the ones that couldn’t be planned: the natural interactions that happening during the theater exercise, the shouts of encouragement during the presentation, the flow of smiles and movement during the group workshopping, the excitement and sharing of the sharing, and the conversations during the reflection.

So we’ve gotten off to a great start, and we’re excited to see how our songwriting projects evolve and get personal in the next few weeks. Seeing us all in groups and the ways that people laughed and came alive was one highlight of many.

As Director of Arts and Community Outreach Darinka Vlahek nicely summed up at the end of our session: “Everybody feels liberated to create stuff.”