ABOUT

Our Mission

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Documentary Songwriters is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation. We seek to increase empathy in the world by co-writing authentic songs with communities in crisis.

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The values at the heart of

Documentary
Songwriters

Our Mission

DocSong’s mission is to bear witness to the human condition and give voice, through music, to people’s experiences. 

Our Vision

People around the world sharing and creating songs from their spoken words.

Our Goal

To build connection among people, reduce loneliness, and free up creativity.

Jonathan Westhorp | Manchester, England

“It was only after going through the process that I fully realised the benefit to my emotional well being. After being able to share the experience, make music while expressing my core emotions, I feel emotionally stronger and true to myself.”

OUR HISTORY

An early collaboration leads to a narrative-driven creative process

Documentary Songwriting is an outgrowth of the ancient oral tradition of people’s singing about their experiences. Our method, which was established in 2009 by Malcolm Brooks and Hanna Batley, offers a specific process and uses modern tools such as laptops and smartphones.

The Documentary Songwriting method evolved from a collaboration between Malcolm and Hannah for the Rockland Unitarian Universalist Church choir, in which Malcolm asked Hannah to explore creating a melody while reading words that Malcolm had written. The resulting work, Sunflower, encouraged them to continue writing in this way. Read more about Sunflower in our Resources section.

That first song marked the birth of the Story-to-Song Method (now most often called the Documentary Songwriting Method) and the culmination of the first stage of evolution of a creative method. It has since grown – along with the DocSong family – as detailed in the list of milestones below.

SELECTED
DocSong milestones

March

2010

Hannah Batley serves as the first story source and co-writes with Malcolm Brooks the first documentary song “Sunflower.” They go on to collaborate on three more documentary songs.

April

2011

Monika Kelly, at Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School, sponsors a course in documentary songwriting, in which six students follow the method and generate documentary songs. Monica then adds a documentary songwriting course as part of the Next Generation string program.

October

2011

Marieke Slovin begins learning the documentary songwriting method from Malcolm. She later transforms oral histories of Massachusetts mill workers into documentary songs.

February

2012

Hannah Batley, Alex Wilder, and other members of the Lady on the Radio band are invited to perform in the Camden Library concert series. The show sells out.

September

2013

Hannah Batley releases the album “Lady on the Radio,” containing four documentary songs.

July

2014

Chloë Isis serves as story source for the first humorous documentary song “Driver’s Ed Blues”.

December

2015

Rohan Edwards enrolls as the first documentary songwriting intern from Bennington College. He develops songs about family relationships.

Feburary

2016

Will Foote explores generating songs about his high school and college cultures. He goes on to collaborate on songs with rural farmers in upstate New York.

February

2016

Alex Wilder takes documentary songwriting to Cuba, and Nora Willauer takes it to Spain. Their works became the first documentary songs in Spanish.

March

2016

Chloë Isis and Will Foote conduct the first demonstration of the DocSong process on radio.

September

2016

Caroline Rex-Waller designs a week-long documentary songwriting intensive for the White Mountain School in New Hampshire. 37 high school students co-write and perform their documentary songs.

December

2017

Zach Arfa acts the part of a documentary songwriter in a play production, generating documentary songs as part of the play’s performance.

January

2018

Genevieve Roby signs on as the first long distance intern, completing her DocSong internship online from Maryland.

Feburary

2018

Hazel Delehey is commissioned by Colorado’s High Mountain Institute to write the first documentary song to be used in a film.

May

2018

Whit Arau designs and hosts a series of short podcasts of documentary songwriters reflecting on their work.

June

2018

Malcolm Brooks is invited to the Carnegie Hall Weill Institute to perform a lullaby that was written using the documentary songwriting method.

September

2018

Melodi Var Öngel proposes to use documentary songwriting in Cyprus, as part of a reconciliation effort between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Her proposal is approved and funded by a Davis Peace Grant, and her work later becomes featured in a TEDx talk in England.

January

2019

Joaquin Contreras uses the method as part of a documentary on migrant workers and also as a means of documenting family histories.

April

2019

Jonny Westhorp and Will Foote collaborate in Belgium with refugees seeking asylum. The songs offer testimony to human perseverance and the universal desire for freedom.

July

2019

Khalid Taylor and Chris Finn co-write the first documentary song exploring the relationship between an orphan and her parents.

October

2019

Nora Willauer applies the method to writing songs with women who have experienced sexual and domestic abuse. Her work is featured on NPR’s Morning Edition (October 2019).

December

2020

Caleb Edwards submits a documentary song as part of his application to Berklee College of Music. (He is accepted).

ADDITIONAL
DocSong testimonials

“How beautiful to feel so fully listened to. I had not realized how rare that feeling is, and moreover, how much listening can feel like love. Working with Malcolm and Chloë has been wonderfully rejuvenating, renewing my desire to weave creativity into my life and to remember, always, to celebrate the numerous moments, however kind, ugly or mundane, that make us human.”

— Caroline Rex-Waller | Bethlehem, New Hampshire

“We need 10 or 100 of Malcolm Brooks traveling around inviting others to tell their stories in this manner. This would not only have a profound effect on this population in individual terms but also offer the community ways to connect to the commonalities among their stories.”

— Rick Medrick | Boulder, Colorado

"Documentary songwriting is a meaningful modern continuation of the oral traditions that have been practiced by marginalized cultures throughout history.”

Anonymous Donor | 2018