Girls Write Nashville is a local non-profit focusing on teaching girls the art of songwriting and expression, founded by friends and Nashville singer songwriters, Jen Starsinic and Georgia English. They recently brought in Annalise Droitcour as their new Operations and Development Manager and to help with the release of their first full-length album of songs by students. The project’s theme is, “teen life in 2020” and is set to be released later this month, coinciding with Women’s History Month. The songs were all outstanding and we have a video for one of the tracks, “2020 Vision” by Tiana. Jen, Georgia and Annalise talked about the inspiration behind founding the organization, the challenges of running a non-profit in a year that saw a deadly tornado, a deadly pandemic, Christmas Day bombing and a massive economic impact on our country and, the music.
Ana Lee: Thanks for taking the time to talk about the Girls Write Nashville mission today. Jen and Georgia, as founders of the organization, can you talk a little about the inspiration behind forming the non-profit, how it works and what you hope to accomplish with the students?
GWN: In Girls Write Nashville, as well as our gender-neutral sibling program Loudmouth, students are guided through the journey of writing and recording original music in a supportive community of peers led by a professional teaching artist. Students get involved with GWN/Loudmouth through our low-cost online classes available to all students K-12 or through one of our free after-school Writers Guilds in partnership with MNPS which are currently operating virtually and open to all students from MNPS Title I middle and high schools. Our program is decidedly community and student led - Georgia and I undergo a review period every year where we talk to students, review student surveys, and attend district Community Partner meetings with our partner schools to make sure the Writers Guilds communities are serving students and are responsive to their needs. We started Girls Write Nashville back in 2016 as a one-time community arts project in partnership with Metro Arts’ Thrive program, and continued it as a nonprofit organization because of the enthusiasm of our founding group of 9 students, the value that they saw in it, and the work and community they wanted to keep participating in. We hear from our students that their Writers Guilds are places where they can express themselves free from judgement, that learning and growing in a community of supportive peers builds their confidence to ‘grow out loud’ and helps free them from the feeling that they have to be perfect to be worthy, and that it’s a space where they feel encouraged to strengthen and develop their voice and leadership skills. I personally have seen young women grow from being afraid to tell someone they don’t like the sound of a guitar part to calling out systemic racism in our society. From Georgia and I’s perspective, we believe that this kind of inclusivity, community, and artistic expression occurs naturally when accessibility barriers are removed and other stymying influences like institutional racism and sexism (societally, in the music industry, and in traditional music education) and trauma un-informed education practices are countered. So, our work as educators and administrators is really to do those things, so our students can have the space for their creative, personal, and community development that they deserve. In addition to our outreach, accessibility and inclusivity practices, we utilize original curriculum that is designed to teach the language of music in a way that does not impose a certain music culture but rather allows students to learn to tell their own story through music. Georgia and I have over 20 years of experience as music educators and professional musicians between us and are both beneficiaries of efforts to increase access to music education and survivors of childhood trauma, so it’s work that’s immensely meaningful to us.
AnaLee: Would you tell us about the album of student penned songs you’ll be releasing March 28 (first single March 5), how it will benefit Girls Write Nashville and what it means to align this release with Women’s History Month?
GWN: Sing Through the Quarantine is Girls Write Nashville’s fourth compilation album consisting of youth-written and remotely recorded songs about life in 2020 and includes themes such as racial justice and isolation. The album will be released Friday, March 26 (with a first single “Toxic Love” on March 5) on all streaming platforms and we’ll celebrate with a Drive-In Listening Party at the Greater Nashville United Way on Sunday, March 28 2:30-4pm with WXNA’s Teen Power Radio Hour streaming the entire album! We’ll also be fundraising and selling album release apparel, mugs and totes on our website the entire month with all proceeds going to support the continuance of our future programming which 95% of students have said has been essential to their mental health in a time of isolation. Though 1 in 3 nonprofits will close this year because of the economic impact of the pandemic, we’ve been fighting to keep Girls Write Nashville alive while also expanding our programming due to an increase in enrollment requests. We’ve been running some very successful virtual programs that more and more students want to be a part of and we know that our students’ creative communities are more important than ever. In 2019-2020 we had after school programs at four Title I middle schools. This year we have students from twelve different Title I schools in programming and we need the support of our community in order to continue this important work.
We’re also so excited to align the release with Women’s History Month! As part of the Girls Write Nashville mission, we’ve always wanted to work to shine a light on the incredible artistic and creative value of our local students. Music City isn’t just about people who move here. It’s about the people who live here and the music they make, and that includes our city’s young people. In conjunction with the album release, we’re showcasing vignettes of women in Nashville’s music history to our community and our students - the first one being Ella Sheppard, the composer, arranger, and leader of the Fisk Jubilee Singers who gained the reputation of “Music City” for Nashville. We hope to highlight the incredible role women have played in Nashville’s history and show how are our students are carrying the torch. (To this end, I’m also so happy to see the National Museum of African American Music opening and other organizations like the Jefferson Street Sound Museum showcasing the immense, defining contributions of African American artists. If anyone has not checked out both those places, they definitely need to! While I’ve not yet been to NMAAM, I’ve learned so much about Nashville’s rich music history from Lorenzo Washington at JSSM.)
AnaLee: What did 2020 look like for Girls Write Nashville and what are your hopes and plans for this year? Also, how can someone become involved as a student or volunteer in 2021?
GWN: 2020 has certainly been quite the year. We’ve been in a mode of constantly adapting and adjusting ever since we canceled a monthly All City Artist Mentorship program meeting the Saturday after the tornado because we didn’t have power at our Metro Center office. Several of our funding sources, including many from within the music industry which has been so hard hit, have been severely disrupted and we’ve really had to fight to keep Girls Write, which is really still in its infancy as start-up organization, alive. At the same time, the need and the value of our program has never been more apparent and our programming has been thriving and even exploding. We had such a successful and effective transition to virtual programming that our enrollment increased and we were able to offer our signature trauma-informed Writers Guilds to students throughout MNPS for free as a 4-week class series in the month of May 2020 while students were facing severe disruptions in their lives and educations and facing significant uncertainty. We also launched our low-cost online Loudmouth classes which are open to students in Nashville who go to schools we’re not currently partnering with as well as students nationwide. Students in all of our programming are engaging with their creative selves, channeling the difficult emotions from this past year into art, and regularly comment to their creative peers, “well this year I don’t really have friends but you guys are my friends.” We’ve also been facilitating a bi-lingual Youth Voice Column in The Contributor where students have spoken about topics ranging from domestic violence to what tv shows they’re watching during their time at home and which has also featured artwork from students from the Frist Teens program.
Heading into 2021, we’re hoping to be able to thrive, not just survive, and to expand our resources to be able to continue to serve the number of students and schools that we’ve met and worked with in the past year. We’re always looking to welcome new people into our community! People can get involved in the following ways by emailing email@example.com, calling (615) 784-8725, and/or visiting our website at www.girlswritenashville.org:
• Everyone can visit our website to learn more about Sing Through the Quarantine, donate, purchase Merch, RSVP to our Drive In Listening Party, and listen to our students’ album!
• People can help peer-to-peer fundraise as part of Sing Through the Quarantine.
• Students in Nashville and elsewhere can participate in programming!
• Teachers, school administrators, and other nonprofit organizations can talk to us about bringing our programming to their school or program collaborations. English and Art teachers and visual art and writing organizations can reach out about featuring student work in the Youth Voice Column.
• Community and business leaders can support our programming through event and corporate sponsorship opportunities, helping us bring programming to more schools and community organizations in Nashville.
• We also welcome volunteers and currently have volunteer availability such as event assistants, social media/digital marketing, fundraising and development committee members, and always are happy to meet artists who would love to support our student artists.
AnaLee: I’m blown away by Tiana. Her voice is incredible and you can really feel the passion and pain in her song, “2020 Vision”.
GWN: Tiana is one of our original, “founding”, group of students and it’s been an honor to have her in Guilds and get to see her grow and develop her voice. Tiana is a massively empathetic person and has a true gift for lifting up her peers. She has been personally affected by gun violence and worked with her mentor, Paige Flores, to channel her anger and pain into this song in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. I think there’s a lot of barriers for full artistic emotional expression for a lot of artists. I know that I, as a woman and a trauma survivor feel that, and I know that there’s so much that I can’t understand about how extraordinarily brave it is for a young black person to express their anger, especially about racial justice and police violence. So, I think it’s the most inspiring act for her to write and sing this song where she expresses her pain and her anger. I’m so in awe of the truth she’s speaking in this song. To be so truthful and so artistically effective in a most difficult moment is just so so impressive and I honestly can’t think of many adult artists who can claim that same accomplishment. I think that was a huge artistic leap she made in the past year and it’s inspired a lot of people, myself included, who have heard or been a part of this song.
Attend Sing Through the Quarantine: https://www.girlswritenashville.com/singthroughthequarantine
Contact: reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to get involved