Songwriter Spotlight: Taylor Simone

Our final Songwriter Spotlight is on Taylor Simone! Taylor also began collaborating with us back when in 2013 when we were a smaller group called LyricLion. She's part of the duo Jazze Belle, which has performed all over NYC and just released an EP. Taylor wrote a new song for this concert and will also be performing one of our favorites, "Lantern."

Did the process of writing a song based on someone else's real life differ from the way you usually write? If so, how?

Yes it did! But not too much. I like to shake things up when I practice writing, and this experience allowed for new ways of discovering to create. And honestly the story I read was so beautiful, my work was the easy part! I have written from other existing parts of text before.

How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

As a black woman, I feel that my music and stories are always political, whether I intend or not. However, I know that I am of the most service to the world and my community when I write and perform. I also know that in order for me to be my best, I have to take care of myself and heal in the ways that oppression has affected me. Getting in touch with myself spiritually and emotionally is what I need to clear out and heal my own pain so I can be the best vessel for others. 

What can artists do to resist oppression?

The one thing that artists can do to resist oppression is to continue. CONTINUE like business as usual since a lot of us chose performing because we like instilling joy and hope and providing a cathartic place for whoever sees us. 

I think we should also keep dreaming, Dreaming when the odds are terrible and the conditions are impossible. It's brave, it's radical and it's necessary. The woman who shared her story with me and the women and femmes who have ever dared to imagine freedom are brave beyond belief.

Check out Taylor Simone singing Lantern with us here:

Get tickets to see Taylor sing with us live here.

Songwriter Spotlight: Olivia Harris

Olivia Harris has been working with Songwriter's Orchestra since the beginning! In fact, the first song we ever tried as an orchestral arrangement was Olivia's "Till The Music Stops" back when we were a seven piece group called LyricLion. Since then, Olivia's joined us for every show, sharing audience favorites like "Power" and "That Afro." Olivia is a Brooklyn native, and she's performed across the city with her band, Olivia K and the Parkers. In addition to performing and writing a new song for this concert, she's also co-producing.

Did the process of writing a song based on someone else's real life differ from the way you usually write? If so, how?

It was more exact. The words have already been said, I just needed to identify the words that unlocked the story and bring it to life. I will say that for a half-second there is the fear that you won't appropriately convey the depth and breadth of the person's experience, but no one really can, so once I relaxed, it came to me within minutes.

What surprised you during this process?

I think the story itself is the most surprising, for reasons that I will allow everyone to find out more about later. You never know how people make their decisions, and it will surprise you what happens when people operate out of fear. 

In what ways have you recognized yourself in these real-life stories? In what ways are they foreign to your experience?

I very much identified with Anjie's story because it was about perception, who we want to be and who the world around us is comfortable with us being. Anjie's story centers on a job interview, which I've done more than a few times. I've felt the nervousness and the questions swirling in my head: am I good enough to do this job? Am I overestimating my capabilities? Am I conveying my confidence and not coming off as arrogant? Will my manner fit in with the culture here? But I have never had to ask, will they be afraid to hire me because of a criminal record?

What about the concert excites you most?

The magic of being involved with this project is getting to share the magic of this story in a new medium, and getting to see new people feel the power of these resilient individuals. It feels like bearing witness to people whose lives have been hidden from what is considered "humanity," who have been treated like they are not deserving of being human, and who, in the act of writing and sharing their story have said no.

How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

I write all kinds of songs but, so far, the ones that seem to resonate with my audiences most are those that intersect with the lives of others. Social justice at its most basic level is about recognition of the ways that histories and perceptions interact with living breathing beings. For me to be self-aware, I find myself becoming community-aware as well.

What can artists do to resist oppression?

Art has always been a part of war. From the haka, to drum corps, to your Spotify playlist, music has synced in with our very cells to direct them towards our goals.  Artists are the leaders of the heart. Our job is to continue to encourage, to tune the people back into their own heartbeats so that they can do what must be done. Sometimes we will lead the call for authenticity and pulling back the veil on things in the material world. Sometimes we will invite each other into fantasy, to remember that we can choose to be free in our minds. Sometimes, we will just be here to remind you that you are never alone, as long as there is a song to be sung. We are singing ourselves, hoping that you will sing yourselves.

Hear Olivia sing "Power" with us here:

Get your tickets to hear Olivia share a brand new song here.

Songwriter Spotlight: Britton Smith

Our next Songwriter Spotlight features Britton Smith. Britton has shared his soulful tunes on several performances with us over the last year and a half. He has appeared on Broadway in Shuffle Along and After Midnight, and is a founding member of Broadway Advocacy Coalition.

Did the process of writing a song based on someone else's real life differ from the way you usually write? If so, how?

The process is very similar to the work I do with Broadway Advocacy Coalition. Oftentimes, we’ll take narratives from individuals and create work around their experience to amplify their voices. On March 27th, we’ve been asked to present a 90 minute program to legislators at city hall who are convening for a national convention focusing on sanctuary cities. So I’m creating a piece with Solomon and a few other friends in the arts community, to expose what a nation void of immigrants truly feels and looks like. Its a very exciting project much like this one. 

What about the concert excites you most?

I want to see the audiences' reactions to these stories. And I want the art to really engage them into who these people really are. I hope that everyone can see past their experiences and connect to these youths' hearts and aspirations and hopes for life. 

How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

Political issues totally influence my work. I used to write about love and hopes. Now I right about love, hope for true liberation, hope for freedom, love of democracy and equal rights. My pencil has more power because it's expressing more than my lifetime desires. It’s writing for my ancestors and my future children who I hope can grow up better equipped to fight against bullshit. 

What can artists do to resist oppression?

They can show up to civically engaged meetings and forums. They can lend their time. They can teach in neighborhoods where culture and arts are limited. Artists are incredibly important here. They should first focus on their own oppression and identify its roots. Then, they should look around and see how many other people are feeling that same oppression. This realization should enable them to act. If it doesn’t, then the artist is asleep.

Check out Britton performing his song "Water Run" with us:

Get your tickets to hear Britton with us live here.

Songwriter Spotlight: Zhailon Levingston

We're thrilled to be working with Zhailon Levingston for the first time. He wrote a new song for this concert, which will be sung by John-Michael Lyles. Zhailon is currently directing a regional production of Joseph in Louisiana. He is active in creating works for Broadway Advocacy Coalition and co-founded Words on White, a project of Young Amazing Souls.

What about the concert excites you most?

The possibility to help an audience feel empathy for a group of people they may not think of often.

How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

Most recently my work has been most connected to political or social justice issues. The challenge for me is to find ways of making the political personal, so that issues affect people in ways they never thought of. 

What can artists do to resist oppression?

The artist's job is to be the freest member of society, to model in our process and work the hope we have for this world. Resistance to that hope will inevitably come, but we must lean into our vocation in tough times and continue being a beacon of light, and more importantly, truth, for others!

Songwriter Spotlight: John-Michael Lyles

Next up in our Songwriter Spotlight series is John-Michael Lyles. John-Michael is a multi-talented actor, songwriter and musical theatre writer. This is John-Michael's third concert with us. In April, he'll be performing alongside Norm Lewis in Sweeney Todd at Barrow Street Theater.

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1. How does sharing your original music fit in with the context of this concert?

It feels heartwarmingly appropriate to share my song Hold Your Head Up because I sing it thinking of these families and youth experiencing oppression in the form of a debilitating prison system.

2. What surprised you during this process?

I was surprised to learn about [the Raise the Age campaign] altogether. I’m sad to admit, I was unaware and remain much too ill-informed about the flaws of the American incarceration process. 

3. In what ways have you recognized yourself in these real-life stories? In what ways are they foreign to your experience?

I recognize a sense of Wendy-esque growing up that I can relate to as I learn of these kids having to face the monstrosity of adulthood. However, coming face to face with a new set of morality as they rediscover themselves behind bars, that is foreign to me. 

4. What about the concert excites you most?

I’m excited to be a part of a platform that inspires people to get informed and get active. Sharing stories is the best place to start, and music will only amplify the humanity and the heart involved in this Raise The Age movement. 

5. How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

I’m entering a new chapter with my musical storytelling. Before, I only wrote about boys and feelings, but now I’m more concerned with how I can inspire or connect or give voice to the marginalized with my music. 

6. What can artists do to resist oppression?

Write & share without apology. I’m still learning to be brave in this regard.

Check out a video of John-Michael performing with us here: 

Get tickets to our concert here.

Songwriter Spotlight: Brinae Ali

Next up in our Songwriter Spotlight series is Brinae Ali! This is Brinae's third time collaborating with us. We originally crossed paths when she sang backup for Britton Smith at a previous performance. After that concert, she sent us some of her own music and we jumped at the opportunity to work with her. We've loved incorporating her incredible tap dancing into our performances! For this concert, Brinae wrote a new song based on Dathonie Pinto's memoir, Chains Don't Rattle Themselves, which is also the title for our upcoming concert.

Did the process of writing a song based on someone else's real life differ from the way you usually write? If so, how?

Yes and no. The only difference for me is that it is not my personal experience, so I was not able to write from my own experience. However, reading Dathonie's memoir allowed me to identify my emotions and feelings towards trauma, motherhood, poverty, family violence, and abuse.  Through these emotions I was able to discover the interaction which allowed me to create. As far as process, I sometimes write my songs from a journal entry and pull out certain words or sentences and turn them into phrases, stanzas, or songs. It was nice to have her words to extract and transform.    

What surprised you during this process?

I think hearing other songwriters' interpretations of the stories, and actually having a chance to hear the other stories outside of the one that I was assigned. The best surprise of course is the arrangements that Solomon puts together for the orchestra. This is my 3rd time working with the orchestra, and it's always a beautiful surprise when we come together.  There is a very trusting component to the collaborating process. I feel like we all share similar values and respect for humanity, and therefore we can be at ease and rock out.  

In what ways have you recognized yourself in these real-life stories? In what ways are they foreign to your experience?

I can most definitely identify with this notion of PTSD that seems to reoccur through the narratives. In Anjelique Wadlington's story, "You, Me, Them, and Us, Equals We..," I felt like I could connect with her struggle of depression and the kind of inner monologue we have to have with ourselves to see that things could have been worse. Accepting that we can not change the past, we can only heal from it. Which can take a lifetime. I also appreciated her perspective on her breakthrough and how she was able to transform her karma to help others. I have never been incarcerated and did not miss any of my schooling. So I can not even imagine.

What about the concert excites you most?

The magical healing potion we get to sprinkle the people! haha! But seriously, I am excited to meet the women who wrote these narratives. I truly admire their strength.

How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

It influences my work tremendously! It is a part of my cultural upbringing. I was raised by my father to understand that yes we make art for the sake of making art, but we also have a responsibility and gift to use our art to heal and invoke the spirit of resistance and justice through the practice of the teachings of our ancestors. 

A clip of Brinae in rehearsal!

Buy tickets here!

Songwriter Spotlight: Allison Strong

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With our concert "Chains Don't Rattle Themselves" coming up this week, we'll be sharing interviews with the songwriters about their involvement. First up is Allison Strong! This is Allison's first concert with the Songwriter's Orchestra. She wrote a new song based on the narrative of Kelvin, who was incarcerated in Riker's Island at the age of 16. 

Did the process of writing a song based on someone else's real life differ from the way you usually write? If so, how?

Kelvin’s story was a blueprint.  I read his account a few times and let the song write itself—it was such a powerful experience to feel his words move through me.  It was as if they had permeated my skin.

What surprised you during this process?

Kelvin and I come from similar backgrounds.  We are both Hispanic, close to our families & first-generation Americans—raised Latino but in the U.S. and in that in-between place of not being from here or from there.  In his prison cafeteria, Kelvin was not accepted by the Latino or African-American tables. He was a translator for the Latino table but could not speak Spanish well enough to communicate effectively with native speakers.  I was surprised by how much I identified with his story.  It’s no surprise I wrote my song the night I read his account.

What about the concert excites you most?

It’s thrilling to be thrust into a situation where you have to write new material on a deadline; I loved the challenge.  I admire the cause of the concert and the Raise the Age campaign and found the source material very inspiring.  There’s also something magical about hearing a song of yours played by a 12-piece-orchestra for the first time.

What can artists do to resist oppression?

Artists can resist oppression by continuing to make art and keeping their eyes, ear and mouths open. The only real censor is the one we place on ourselves.  

Check out a preview of Allison's song!

You can purchase tickets to the concert here.

ANNOUNCING: Chains Don't Rattle Themselves - A Concert for Youth Justice

Title derived from Dathonie Pinto's forthcoming book Chains Don't Rattle Themselves. 

Join us on Long Island (Sunday March 12th) or in Manhattan (Monday March 13th) for an emotionally-charged concert that shares gripping stories about youth incarceration -- first as personal narratives presented by people directly affected by the issue, and then as raw, potent original songs adapted from the stories themselves. This is a special collaboration with Herstory Writers Workshop, an organization that helps incarcerated people write down their stories. Poignant but ultimately empowering, Chains Don’t Rattle Themselves seeks to break through barriers of judgment and mobilize audiences to take direct action supporting the Raise The Age NY campaign for youth criminal justice reform in New York State. 

Songwriters and performers participating:
Brinae Ali (Shuffle Along)
Singer/songwriter Olivia Harris
Zhailon Levingston (iLLA)
John-Michael Lyles (Barrow Street’s Sweeney Todd)
Taylor Simone (of Jazze Belle)
Britton Smith (Shuffle Along)
Allison Strong (Mamma Mia). 

The concert is conceived by Alex Hare and Solomon Hoffman, with direction by Hare and arrangements by Hoffman. Co-produced by Olivia Harris.

May not be suitable for children under 10. Tickets are available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/profile/1599005


The Raise the Age campaign began in 2012 as an effort to stop New York state from prosecuting and incarcerating 16- and 17- year olds as adults. With strong momentum around the cause and support from Governor Cuomo, 2017 may be a tipping point for this vital criminal justice reform campaign. The concert will include key action steps that New Yorkers can take to contribute to this campaign. New York is one of only two states in the country that prosecutes 16- and 17- year olds as adults. 

The Power is in Our Hands - Special Event at Capsule Studio

In response to the division and vitriol brought out by the election results, and the violence and hate it has emboldened, we are holding a special community event. We hope to offer a chance for healing, reflection and empowerment through our collective energies and voices. We take pride in the diversity of our ensemble and collaborators, and this will be an evening to celebrate that. Featuring: Brinae Ali, John-Michael Lyles, Grace McLean, Britton Smith and Taylor Simone (Jazze Belle).

Where: The Capsule Studio, 873 Broadway #204, New York, NY 10003

When: November 21st, 7:30pm

 

Suggested donation $20
A portion of the donations will go to an organization working toward racial justice.
Reception to follow, sponsored by Capsule Studio.

RSVP here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-songwriters-orchestra-presents-the-power-is-in-our-hands-tickets-29461067847

Third time's the charm!

We're so excited to be back at (le) poisson rouge for our third performance! We're teaming up with Kate Ferber, Olivia Harris, Britton Smith and Jazze Belle once again, and performing with Janet Krupin and Brittany Campbell for the first time! Tix and info here: http://lpr.com/lpr_events/songwriters-orchestra-june-13th-2016/

New Concert, New Venue

Hey TSO fans! 

We're super excited to announce our next concert at 61 Local as a part of their Sunday Sounds series sponsored by Art Girl Army! That's a lot of great things all rolled into one: awesome brooklyn bar with great food and drink (no minimum), amazing feminist power, and our usual lineup of talented songwriters accompanied by our tried and true orchestra of 12. 

 

Sunday, April 10th / 7pm / $15 / tickets HERE 

Upcoming Concert

Can't get enough of us? Well, you're in luck. We're hitting Le Poisson Rouge downtown on December 21st for our biggest baddest concert yet. New songwriters meet up with some of our trusted favorites all with our amazing ensemble under the direction of the fearless Solomon. Click HERE for more info and for the ticket link. They are just $15 in advance!