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.
You can purchase tickets to the concert here.