How and when did you get into songwriting?
I've been making up songs as long as I can remember - my brother (who's now a professional singer/actor/dancer) and I loved Weird Al Yankovic when we were kids, and we subjected our parents to constant performances of our original parody songs. I started doing some more serious songwriting when I picked up the ukulele a few years ago. It's such a perfect instrument to accompany singing, something I don't get to do when I play the oboe, so it opened that part of my creative brain back up. I do a lot of composition - both words and music - with my school music classes, and I've found it to be a great way to make a personal connection with my students.
Describe the connection you developed with the mothers with whom you worked, through the creation of their personal songs.
I felt an immediate connection to Zakkiyya when we first introduced ourselves. She had eight children, several of whom were away from her or in foster care. I grew up in a large family of adopted siblings with various special needs, and we were sharing the most personal details of our family stories right away. When we created the chorus of Zakkiyya's song, musical repetitions of her children's names, I felt like I was getting to know them. She told me what was unique to each child's personality, and showed me pictures of them.
What was the most challenging part of the experience, and what was the most rewarding?
The biggest challenge, like with any song, was knowing where to start. You have to try a few things out with a song before you can settle on what works, and I knew we had a very limited amount of time with this project. You want to make sure you finish the song, but you don't want to compromise the integrity of it by rushing through. But once Zakkiyya and I latched on to an idea, everything flowed beautifully. The most rewarding thing was watching Zakkiyya go from being unsure of herself to taking the lead over the course of just a few hours. She started out intimidated by the idea of writing a song, but said to me towards the end, "I had no idea the songwriting process was this much fun!"
Meaghan Heinrich served as a teaching artist, helping mothers participating in the program to compose their lullabies for their families. We're sharing stories from participants in our 2018 Lullaby Project, launched in partnership with Sojourner Family Peace Center last season, as we gear up for #GivingTuesday, November 27. Learn how you can support our community programs like this initiative at mso.org/giving.