Documentary songwriting presents a vital opportunity for telling powerful stories, conveying complex emotions, and affecting meaningful social change.


Stories of

New Mainers

Documentary songwriting allows us to know members of our community better. In partnership with the Immigrant Music Connection, the New Mainers project shares stories told by members of Portland’s immigrant community.


New Mainers

Portland, Maine has experienced a significant rise in immigration in recent years, transforming the city into a vibrant multicultural hub. Many immigrants come from the African continent, including Somalia, Sudan, and Congo, as well as the Middle East, from Iraq and Syria. These new Mainers have enriched Portland's cultural arts scene, bringing their own musical traditions, ranging from Somali Bantu beats, Congolese rumba, to the compelling rhythm of Middle Eastern music.

While the landscape of Portland is changing, immigrants often face dehumanization while navigating the challenges of resettlement. Dehumanizing rhetoric and stereotypes perpetuate negative perceptions, making it easier to justify discriminatory policies and practices. Dehumanization not only marginalizes immigrants but also negatively impacts their mental health and sense of belonging.

The New Mainer program, established in partnership with the Immigrant Music Connection, seeks to counter these damaging narratives and harness the power of music to elevate immigrant voices and stories. 

By bringing together immigrants and local songwriters, this collaborative songwriting program empowers immigrants to share their experiences in a creative and powerful way. Through the process of transforming their stories into songs, immigrants are able to reclaim their narratives and express their unique perspectives, fostering a sense of empowerment and pride in their identities.

The impact of this program extends beyond the individuals involved. As these stories are transformed into songs, they become a medium through which the broader community can connect, empathize, and appreciate the diversity of lived experiences in Portland. The songs not only entertain and inspire, but also educate and challenge stereotypes, breaking down barriers and fostering a greater understanding and appreciation for the immigrant community.



There are some stories seldom heard. In partnership with Promote Harmony, the Unlocking Harmony project is designed to provide a platform for the stories of men and women who are or have previously been incarcerated.


Unlocking Harmony

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over two million people currently behind bars. This high incarceration rate is influenced by multiple factors, including stringent drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and a criminal justice system that often disproportionately affects low-income and communities of color. Despite making up only about 5% of the global population, the U.S. holds nearly 25% of the world's prison population. This has sparked ongoing debates about prison reform, racial disparities in sentencing, and the overall effectiveness of the country's penal system.

Spearheaded by Mimi Bornstein and Malcolm Brooks, the Unlocking Harmony program works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals to transform personal stories into songs, while nurturing critical interpersonal skills. At the heart of the program is the Documentary Songwriting Method, a creative process that fosters teamwork, collaboration, and listening, while also helping cultivate empathy and a sense of community. The final songs are transformed into choral pieces, recorded, and performed at public concerts. 

The project is rooted in the belief that sharing these stories can influence public opinion, foster empathy and encourage prison reform initiatives. Unlocking Harmony aims to shed light on the systemic issues within the criminal justice system, uncovering not only the impact of these problems on inmates and their families, but also their wider implications for society as a whole. Simultaneously, it points to the potential for rehabilitation and change. Through this program, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of the human rights issues within American prisons, promoting a healthier dialogue about criminal justice in the U.S.



For some, documentary songwriting provides a way to process traumatic stories. In partnership with Finding Our Voices, the Survivor Stories project works with survivors of domestic violence to share their stories of hope and resilience.


Survivor Stories

Domestic violence is a widespread global problem that affects millions of people. Statistics show that 1 in 3 women in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

The Survivor Stories Project, in collaboration with Finding Our Voices, is committed to supporting survivors of domestic violence. Using documentary songwriting, teaching artists work with women to help them write songs that allow them to process trauma, build resilience, and reclaim their story.

Using music as a mechanism for healing and advocacy, the songs composed in this project also provide a powerful platform for education. The impact of these stories extends beyond the individual, touching listeners and fostering a broader understanding of domestic violence. 

The Survivor Stories Project aims to inspire others experiencing similar situations, instill hope and highlight the strength within the survivor community. We hope to raise public awareness, challenge stereotypes surrounding domestic abuse, and inspire change in attitudes and policy.

Songs of


Documentary songwriting is a powerful vehicle for telling women’s stories. It turns difficult experiences into beautiful music, and through collaboration it creates lasting bonds between participants. These real, truthful stories can help connect even more people.


Songs of #MeToo

From Executive Director Nora Willauer: "As a young woman in my 20s, I have been asked multiple times about my opinion of the #MeToo movement. It has taken a long time for me to sort out my feelings on this subject, and they are still evolving. I have my own story that has led me to these conclusions, and I have listened to stories from many of my friends. I believe that although the #MeToo movement provides a platform for women to share their stories and receive support, it understates the issue. For every woman that comes forward and bravely shares her story, there are thousands more who don’t have the opportunity. Furthermore, telling a story is only a tiny piece of the healing process.

I am currently pursuing my graduate studies in music performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I have been working with an organization called Documentary Songwriters for the past five years, and I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the relationship between classical music and documentary songwriting. This method of songwriting turns spoken word stories into songs, and attempts to bear witness to the human condition. It advocates deep listening and staying present to whatever may arise. It creates bonds of trust and gives voice to stories that otherwise may not be heard.

I want to use documentary songwriting as a vehicle for telling women’s stories. I will collaborate with participants in one-on-one songwriting sessions and subsequently record and share the songs depending on the participants’ level of comfort. In my own experience, documentary songwriting is an extremely cathartic process. Not only does it turn difficult experiences into beautiful music, but through collaboration it creates lasting bonds between participants. In concerts and with recordings, these real, truthful stories can then be spread across the world and help connect even more people.

While this project stems from the conversation around sexual misconduct, I want to include any relevant stories including ones of abuse, eating disorders, body challenges, unfair treatment in the workplace, etc. With this project I hope to support and empower women while also continuing the conversation of the breadth of issues women face daily."


It’s a Warm Feeling to be Free

Mary Lou



A number of our story sources and creative partners struggle with a mix or change of self-identity. They may hide away a part of themselves – the part that doesn’t fit or cannot adjust – to be accepted. This part of one’s self has a voice that deserves to be heard.


Identities Project

From Melodi Var Öngel and Malcolm Brooks: "We have met a number of people who struggle with a mix or a change of self-identity. In some instances, the struggle arises from upbringing. One of their parents may be from one culture and the other parent from another, quite different culture.

In other instances, the struggle arises from a foundational change in their life. A loved one dies, and the world may expect them to act in a different way.

To be accepted in their own culture, they may hide away a part of themselves – the part that doesn’t fit or cannot adjust. Yet this part of one’s identity has a voice. It, too, deserves to be heard.

We began collaborating with people who have experienced this inner conflict. The songs in this project come from people from contrasting cultures, such as Québec, Iraq, the United Kingdom, and the Côte d’Ivoire. What the songs reveal, at least to us, is grace and strength. Each song feels like an unanticipated treasure."


The Right to Love

This House Feels like a Home

Songs Across


Documentary songwriting can also be a potent humanitarian tool. From those who have found new homes, reflecting on journeys both intimate and international, these personal peace stories from cultures in conflict serve as the basis for powerful original songs.


Songs Across Boundaries

From Teaching Artist Melodi Var Öngel: "I had an opportunity to give a TEDx talk at Bath University about two international peace projects I did which were funded by Davis Foundation, one in Turkey and Armenia, and the other one in Cyprus. I shared my story about how I started to use music for social change, how I used documentary songwriting to bring peace to people in Cyprus, and all the struggles and successes I had during both projects. Especially the second peace project was more complex (gathering peace stories from two cultures in conflict and creating original songs from from these stories and finally performing all ten songs at three concerts in Cyprus).

These two peace projects did not only help me to better understand the depth of the conflicts in the region where I am from but also helped me to recognize the power of music, story telling, communication and friendship. Through these peace projects, I met so many beautiful people, created friendship with people from all different backgrounds and listened to so many powerful and inspiring stories.

I have been recently told that following my Cyprus project, three new humanitarian projects are being done using documentary songwriting to help women who have been sexually abused, give veteran soldiers a voice and to help refugees who are awaiting asylum in Belgium.

Thank you everyone who supported me during this process and thank you Bath University TEDx team for the great organization."



Ey Ney

Patates Kamyonunda (On the Potato Truck)

Documentary art


A documentary song reflects the impressions of a lived event, based on spoken words. The question arises, how would a visual artist convey their impression of a documentary song? This collaborative, multimedia project explores the intersection of these interpretations.


Documentary Art Project

A documentary song reflects the impressions of a lived event, based on spoken words. The question arises, how would a visual artist convey their impression of a documentary song?

Here are four answers to that question.

Raspberries – Clio Berta (art), Don Mitchell (story source)

One Girl to Another – Hannah Wells (art), Genevieve Roby (story source)

I Lay My Eyes on You – Clio Berta (art), Hannah Batley and Malcolm Brooks (song)

Off to Find Peace – Anna French (art), Hannah Batley and Malcolm Brooks (song)

The Documentary Art Project was inspired by the work of painter Monica Kelly.


This House Feels like a Home

Off to Find Peace


Oswald Chambers

Documentary songwriting is a perfect vehicle to propel the work of Oswald and Biddy Chambers into the future. This intrepid pair served as support to the British Army abroad during World War I. This project puts their devotional words to music for the first time.


Songs from Oswald Chambers

From Teaching Artist Chris Finn: "Oswald and Biddy Chambers were selfless people who, with their toddler Kathleen, lived in service to rough, battle hardened troops of the British empire rotating through Egypt during World War One. Oswald’s gospel lectures to the troops were captured and edited into a little book titled, 'My Utmost for His Highest' by Biddy Chambers after Oswald’s untimely passing in Egypt. These lectures were delivered while the Chambers lived in the YMCA huts installed at Zeitoun. I thought, Gee, if a guy and his wife could really live out a muscular faith in the middle of a place like that with soldiers who have seen hell on earth, there must be something to it.

My notions have long since been validated. 40 years later, my wife Liz and I still find the brief, daily readings in “My Utmost” to be a hot nuclear core for our own personal faith-walk. We both believe we’ve found something that brings the realities of life into sharper relief against the backdrop of a historic and deeply relevant Divine Love.

As my friend Malcolm Brooks was completing his doctorate, I became keenly interested in his work with documentary songwriting. Listening to and even participating in the creative work coming through the artists in the clinics and sessions he was holding, I had a persistent notion that this approach would be a perfect vehicle to propel the work of Oswald and Biddy Chambers further and wider into the future.

Their little book has never been out of print since 1927 and has sold over 13 million copies worldwide. While a number of great artists have asserted Chambers as their inspiration, to my knowledge none have actually sung his words.

Documentary songwriting has proven to be a wonderful vehicle to take Oswald and Biddy Chambers as what documentary songwriters would call “story sources” and to present their words in beautiful song to encourage, comfort and bless those living in our troubled times.

To my surprise and delight, thanks to the composing and directing talent of Mimi Bornstein, echoing Chambers in song is emerging as a choral effort. This has only affirmed the appeal and reach of this amazing couple’s personal journey of faith.

Special thanks to our friends at Discovery House Publishing/Our Daily Bread for their generous permission to use direct quotations from Oswald and Biddy Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest” in our documentary songwriting."


The Key



With every veteran, there is a life deeper than the uniform worn. This project helps veterans tell their stories through documentary songwriting. Through one-on-one songwriting sessions, our teaching artists collaborate with veterans to create true and meaningful songs.


Veteran Songs

From Teaching Artist Will Foote: "With every veteran, there is a life deeper than the uniform worn. I am helping veterans tell their stories through documentary songwriting. Through one-on-one songwriting sessions, I am collaborating with veterans to create true and meaningful songs. A veteran I worked with said “music in our body does something that thinking and speaking doesn’t. Each veteran may decide whether they want to keep their song private or share it with others. I hope to help bring people together across the world by sharing lives and stories through music.

Songwriting Steps

  • Share your story in a supportive, confidential and comfortable space
  • Work together shaping your spoken story into lyrics
  • Develop a melody for the lyrics, and add instrumentation (No musical experience required!)
  • Explore the potential of production and performance by musicians

My excitement for this project stems from my experiences in consistently being surprised by how new and different each song and person is. For me, being invited into someone else’s life and world truly is being peace. When we leave political and social differences outside of the room for a moment, and truly allow the human connection of storytelling and deep listening to flourish, we in essence reach peace.
I want to thank each and every person that has helped, and continue to help me along the way with this project. Through community and collaboration comes beauty and connection."


Anybody but Myself

The Lord Brought Ellie