Sharing #MeToo Stories Through Songs

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Feelings about sexual harassment and assault often go unspoken, but Nora Willauer thought music could get people talking.

The master’s student in cello performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music decided to embark on a documentary songwriting project sharing people’s #MeToo stories.

“I had my own relationship with this movement and started talking to my friends and realizing that pretty much every single person has some sort of energy around the #MeToo movement,” she said.

Willauer started by writing a song about a friend’s experience. Then she opened up the opportunity to anyone, spreading the word in coffee shops and connecting with rape support networks.

Dina Black was curious what sort of therapy might come through the documentary songwriting and took Willauer up on the offer.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how it has helped me,” Black said. 

Dina Black and Nora Willauer listen to the song they wrote together in a coffee shop in Cleveland. [Carrie Wise/ideastream]

The two began meeting last year and through several interviews and edits came up with the song, “My Father Said.” The lyrics include the words of Black’s father when she first told him she had been assaulted. 

“He said: ‘Do you have your legs? Do you have your arms?’ And I said, ‘yes.’ He said: ‘Then you'll be OK.’ And I'm like: ‘What?’ But the truth of the matter is that's the reason why I still stand,” Black said.  

When Black first heard a recording of Willauer on cello and singing her story it took her back to the trauma she lived.

“It really choked me up,” Black said. “Yet at the end of it, it was very liberating.”

Willauer recently released “My Father Said” and three other #MeToo songs online with a vision to share them with more people. She also enlisted the help of one of her music professors, Dr. Marshall Griffith, for his advice on how to improve them.

“I was honored that she asked me to help,” he said. "It’s fantastic somebody is doing this.”

Nora Willauer works on one of the #MeToo songs with her teacher, Dr. Marshall Griffith, at the Cleveland Institute of Music. [Carrie Wise/ideastream]

Griffith offered Willauer suggestions on notes and chords to consider adding to the songs. She continues to work on the existing songs as well as new ones. The latest one has a punk feel.

“I want to learn how to write songs that people want to listen to. So, basically write a song that's catchy enough and powerful enough that even though the content is really hard to listen to people want to listen to it,” she said.

Two years after the #MeToo movement took hold, Willauer is keeping the conversation going, encouraged by the connections with the women she’s worked with and responses from others who hear the songs.  

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