The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended Interlochen Center for the Arts Summer Camp. I went for two weeks for the singer-songwriter program. I grew so much in those two weeks both as a person and as a songwriter. There were about twenty students selected for the program and we had four instructors teaching us everything they knew. Each instructor came from a different musical background. Classes were taught in camp cabins equipped with various musical instruments, chalkboards, and absolutely no air conditioning. Every day we would meet with each instructor and learn about different elements of songwriting from lyrics, music, touring, recording contracts, and group-writing techniques. Interlochen pushed me far out of my comfort zone by forcing me to perform my original songs in front of people every two days. I also had to write songs on a time schedule which really forced me to put my creative hat on and make artistic decisions quickly.
One of the activities we did in class was to write an album of our life. We had to make up titles to songs we hadn't written yet that would chronologically describe our lives to a stranger. It was an interesting task that forced me to think about my life in a very different way. A typical album has around ten to twelve songs. Trying to fit your life into ten song titles is much harder than you might think.
After leaving Interlochen, I have applied some of the lessons I learned there to my current songwriting. Recently, I was in need of some musical inspiration. I decided to re-do the album exercise and update my list. Without music, many of my life experiences would be very different. I have used music to cope with tough seasons, and I have used music to celebrate exciting successes.
If I were to write an album of my life, it would look something like this:
1. under the mango tree
When my family lived in Hong Kong, my sister and I used to walk to school through a park next to our apartment building. A mango tree grew in that park but it never bore any fruit. It was always a topic of conversation between my sister and I. But as is typical of young children, we moved on quickly switching our focus to the school day or the game that was happening on the basketball court. Despite it being such a small part of my eight years in Hong Kong, it is one of the things I remember the most. It is funny how the little, unexpected things can leave the biggest mark.
2. Dancing On Your Feet
I grew up in the most loving, close-knit family. I feel so fortunate and blessed to be able to say that. When I was little, I used to dance on my dad's feet and hold his hand way above my head when we walked. To this day, my parents are the most amazing support system. I call them whenever I am down and in their own unique way, they pick me back up. If I were to ever write "Dancing On Your Feet," it would be a tribute to them and the wonderful childhood memories they gave me.
Mary Frances Bellman
3. I Wouldn't Be Me Without You
I wouldn't be who I am without my twin sister, Josephine. We are a unit. She and I grew much closer as we got older. Now she attends Oxford University in England and the miles between us are painful. I miss her every day. Despite the distance, we remain joined at the hip. She is always the person I call when I could use some help, and I am ready at the other end of the phone whenever she is in need. There is no other way to say it other than without her, I would not be the same.
Mary Frances Bellman
Sasha, I hope maybe you are reading this. Sash, you are hands down my longest-lasting, closest friend. We have lived in different countries now for almost 7 years but I know I could message you anytime and it would be like no time had passed at all. You know more about me than anyone and you have seen me in both the hardest and happiest times. I owe you so much. Thank you for your friendship. You are one of a kind and I love you.
5. Center of Attention
When we first moved to Texas, both my sister and I had strong English accents. We stuck out among the southern drawl of our peers and quickly gained a reputation at our school. For a while we were "the British twins" but over time we assimilated into the American school system. I lost my British accent at school because it was more comfortable to fit in than to stand out. I hate being the center of attention so changing my voice and adopting the Texas trends put me more at ease.
6. When You Hold Me
I'm cheating a little bit with this song because this song actually exists. I wrote this song sitting at the base of a tree at Interlochen. It was a beautiful summer day in Michigan and I was missing home a little. I found myself writing this song quickly and organically. Nothing about this process was forced. When You Hold Me is a thank you note to my mom for everything she did to keep me going through high school. My favorite lyric from the song is "when I'm in your arms I feel nothing but safety."
Interlochen Center for the Arts
"Admiration" would represent a time in my last few years of high school. I finally started to have some clarity about where I wanted to go for college, what I wanted to do for a career, and the passions I wanted to prioritize. I realized that I wanted to do Physical Therapy, write songs, sing, and put effort into improving my health and fitness. In this process, I found people who I looked up to and attempted to learn everything I could from them. Finding mentors in all of these disciplines has been instrumental in my journey towards my desired career and passions. Maybe one day I'll be able to pass on all that I have learned to someone else.
January 4th means a lot to me. I was diagnosed with a medical disorder that will affect me for the duration of my life. While I definitely haven't fully come to terms with it, I am learning to accept my new normal. This song would probably be a sad one but who doesn't love a good sad song every once in a while?
9. out on my own
This title is pretty self-explanatory. "out on my own" would be about my transition to college life. Freshman year was a tough year for me for many reasons but over time, Emory has felt more and more like home. It feels so good to say that I am happy now at Emory. I have changed so much in my almost two years as a college student and I would like to say all of that change has been for the better.
10. What I Know Now
There is this famous saying "if only I had known then, what I know now." I've always struggled with this phrase because while I agree, it would be nice to skip the tough lessons and mistakes, I think they are crucial to our development. I think Luke Bryan said it better than I ever could: "wisdom in your youth would be a lot less fun."
Who knows, maybe one day I will create songs out of these titles. But for now, they represent key periods of time and pivotal moments that piece together a picture of my life. If you are an artist or even if you aren't the creative type at all, I encourage you to look at your life a little differently. There are many things that determine our path. No one thing can completely wreck your future, and no one act will make you a success story. This exercise taught me that every single person is a combination of their experiences and their reactions to them.