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Medicinal Melodies: Reflections from My Story, My Song

By Kelley McRae and Maya Williams-Britton

In May 2022, Texas Folklife’s Stories for Creative Forces Program presented a virtual workshop series for women veterans called “My Story, My Song.” Facilitated by songwriter Kelley McRae and Reverend Terry Pierce, eight women veteran participants from across Texas and the United States came together over three consecutive Saturdays to learn how to explore their individual stories and turn their experiences into songs. Artist and Marine Corps veteran Judith Estrada Garcia coordinated this year's program. Judith is a former participant of the Stories for Creative Forces Program who came back to assist our program in sharing this unique experience and healing with other women veterans.

The experience began with an interactive contemplative program led by Terry. Participants were asked to focus on reflection, self-compassion, empathy, vulnerability, and shame, drawing on the work of Brené Brown and Dr. Kristen Neff. Through this work, participants learned to draw out their personal narratives and explore their stories and feelings safely and gently.

After exploring their stories, the group then walked through the basics of songwriting with Kelley: song structure, finding inspiration, lyrics, musical patterns, etc. From there, through writing exercises and discussion, participants were led in a step-by-step process to transform their effort from song seed to finished lyrics. At this point, each participant had the opportunity to work one-on-one with facilitator Kelley to translate those words to music. 

Some women were comfortable writing melodies or playing an instrument, so they worked with Kelley to refine and record their songs independently. Those that wanted help were invited to work with Kelley to find the musical world that best fit their vision. For some, this meant writing the lyrics and having Kelley create the music. For others, this meant sharing their story and working with Kelley to shape lyrics and music. 

All veteran participants were given access to the online recording platform Soundtrap and received group and individual instruction to record their songs. 

“I was very moved by how many veterans wanted to not only learn about songwriting over the course of our three sessions,” remarked program facilitator Kelley McRae, “but to put it into action. It's one thing to have someone else create a song from your story, it's quite another to create your own lyrics, to choose your own images and melodies, to take ownership in that way. To me, this speaks to an empowerment they found within the work that is very different than being a passive participant.”

At the end of the final workshop session, each veteran shared their songs in progress, and the feeling of connection and joy was palpable. It's a special thing to have a group of women veterans together. They understand and encourage each other in profound ways. As each woman shared her song, she was heard and validated within a loving and safe community that uniquely understood what it takes to mine those truths and create beauty from pain. 

“My hope,” Kelley reflects, “is that they continue to write on their own for years to come and continue to experience the healing that comes from creativity.”

Listen to Songs produced by participants from the 2022 Stories for Creative Forces “My Story, My Song” Workshop Series on the Texas Folklife Soundcloud:

More About Stories for Creative Forces

Stories for Creative Forces is a program of Texas Folklife designed to support current and former military service members express their stories and folklore (customs and traditions) through audio production training. All participants gain experience in research and interviewing techniques, audio recording, logging, transcribing, writing composition, and story crafting with audio field recordings. 

Learn More About Stories for Creative Forces


Support for Creative Forces
An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network is a partnership with the US Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs and the state and local arts agencies with administrative support provided by Americans for the Arts. Additional support was provided by the City of Austin Department of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Grant for Technology Opportunities (GTOPS), the Texas Folklife Board of Directors, and Texas Folklife Members. 

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