Notes to Self: Music as a Form of Trauma Therapy

The month of October carries with it the feeling of fall, apple orchid visits, and a warm cider on a crisp and chilly afternoon. However, for some, the month of October holds a very different meaning as it marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During this month, we take time to recognize the stories and experiences of those who have been or currently are victims/survivors of domestic violence.

The issue of domestic violence has a hold on not only those who experience it directly, but anyone who has seen the way it affects those who have had to go through it. The traumatic experiences of this type of abuse can have a lasting impact on the entirety of the victims’ life and is therefore detrimental to their physical and emotional well being. This video from the Media Co-op defines trauma as “what occurs when a person is overwhelmed by something beyond their control.”

When an event occurs that is out of your control and is somehow harmful to you, there are natural mechanisms in your brain that trigger responses to keep you safe. Yet there can also be extremely severe consequences if these responses are triggered constantly. The ability to cope with and manage the effects that trauma can have on the brain is no easy task. There are many ways that people can choose to avoid their pain through substance abuse, an unhealthy relationship with food, addiction to technology, or forms of self harm. However, there can also be more positive ways to handle the pain of trauma that allows for growth and healing. 

Expanding from the phenomenal power music holds in the world of speech therapy, it has also been proven by many as a productive tool in recovering from trauma that has originated from experiences of domestic violence or abuse. According to a study done at Ohio University, music therapy provides a “safe medium” in which survivors have control over a nonverbal form of expression. This research describes the ways in which music can increase reality orientation, self-esteem, and communication skills — each of which are critical factors in the process of healing and recovery from trauma.

In her TedTalk describing her own path of healing, Karla Hawley elaborates on how making music is what kept her alive through some of her darkest moments: “When music is applied with intentional strategy,” she says, “it can restore our ability to be back in our lives with meaning, to understand your pain, and to understand your trauma story. And that is the difference.”

Fighting Injustice with Song: A Brief History of Protest Music in America

Music has always been a representation of what is inside of us. We are complex beings that hold strong opinions, a wide range of emotions, and a very, very loud voice. Throughout history, music has served as a voice for the people in times of need, discomfort, and revolution. As Hope College Concert Series, it is our job to ensure that music continues to speak about the state of the world and that it continues to tell stories. We are going to explore a few of our favorite examples of how music has spoken volumes and inspired communities to act.

Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday (‘39)

“Strange Fruit” was first written as a poem by Abel Meeropol in 1937, but popularized by legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in 1939. The lyrics of the poem are intense, and not for the faint of heart: “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”. The song is, of course, about the high amounts of black people being lynched in America, and the lyrics were written after Meeropol saw a grotesque image of two black men being lynched in northern Indiana.

“Strange Fruit” has been called “the start of the Civil Rights Movement”, and Holiday could only perform it in certain locations without fearing for her safety, but the song is one of the earliest examples of protest music in America after the Civil War. The song called attention to the inhuman acts being committed regularly in the most direct, most blunt way possible and the vivid imagery of the lyrics, specifically the second verse, got it banned from multiple radio stations. But that just made “Strange Fruit” even more impossible to ignore and it became a staple of Billie Holiday’s live shows.

Clearly, as long as there is injustice in America or worldwide, there will be voices speaking out about it in song.

It was made even more popular in 1965 when Nina Simone covered the song with the new context of other horrific events, including the murder of 14-year-boy Emmett Till. “Strange Fruit” has had an unfortunate amount of longevity as the sentiment of the song still rings true today, and it’s one of the best early examples of music as a form of protest in America.

Hendrix @ Woodstock (‘69)

Woodstock. 1969. Jimi Hendrix, at 27 years old, gave one of the most incendiary renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” that the world has ever heard. The United States had been engaged in the Vietnam War for over a decade and the perceptions of these wartime efforts were shifting. The 60’s were a time of revolution and counterculture involving strong movements against government and the Civil Rights Movement.

Hendrix, a former military man, took the stage on a gloomy August day on the last day of the Woodstock Music Festival and left a legacy that lasted much longer than the “3 Days of Peace of Music”. A familiar melody emanated from the Marshall stacks as Jimi started playing the “Star Spangled Banner” on his white Fender Stratocaster. The patriotic sentiment was interrupted as the melody began to distort nearing “the rocket’s red glare”, and then a beautiful chaos ensued. The audience was shocked by the electric emulation of bombs being dropped, screams, and military horns as Jimi played his heart and soul out through his guitar. After 4 minutes of song, Jimi “let freedom ring” as he struck the final chord, and the world knew that this performance was more than just a moment.

This was an attack on the government’s increased involvement in Vietnam and it highlighted the true horrors of war, the very war that was going on at that very moment in time. This moment was a powerful example of how music can represent the hearts of the people and be applied in any context to say what is really on everyone’s mind.

A Broader Perspective

Obviously, protest music didn’t stop after the 70s, and there have been countless reasons to have music as a form of protest in the last 40+ years. The “war on drugs” of the 80s and racially charged events like the Rodney King beating and subsequent LA riots spawned some iconic protest music, songs like “F*** the Police” by NWA in 1988 and “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy in 1989.

The wars in the early 2000s in Iraq and Afghanistan gave birth to protest music like Green Day’s 2004 album, American Idiot. And, rising amounts of police brutality and racial tension in American society and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which started in 2012 and continues into the present, gave way to songs like Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 song “Alright”, Beyoncé’s 2016 song “Formation”, YG’s 2016 song “FDT”, and Childish Gambino’s 2018 song “This Is America”.

There are even protest songs about the events going on right now, in October 2020, like Terrace Martin and Denzel Curry’s song “Pig Feet”, which came out this past June, and whose music video ends with an almost 3-minute long crawl of the names of people killed by police. Clearly, as long as there is injustice in America or worldwide, there will be voices speaking out about it in song. And, these songs and albums and artistic statements continue to speak volumes.

Have any other amazing examples of musical voice? Shoot us an email at You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram @hopeconcerts and don’t forget to follow us on Spotify @hopeconcerts!

What have HCCS members been listening to? (Part 2)

We are back with the second half of recommendations from our members! Don’t forget to follow us on Spotify @hopeconcerts!

Alex: My favorite project from last semester: Circles, by Mac Miller. Mac Miller unfortunately passed away in September of 2018, but he was recording material for this album, Circles, up until his death.

Posthumous albums can sometimes be rush-jobs that are only released for the money, so some fans were nervous for this release. But Circles doesn’t feel like that at all, and for me, it was released at the perfect time. It came out right at the beginning of last semester, which was great for me because the semester we’d just finished had been a little bit of a rough one for me, and this album felt like a warm blanket on a cold, gloomy day. And then, when quarantine started, and we all had to uproot our lives at a moment’s notice, Circles was still there to keep me grounded.

The music features a mix of Mac rapping and singing, although he sings much more than usual. The production is jazzy and smooth and bright in a subdued way, and the hooks and verses on pretty much all of the songs are just infectious and amazing, including the two deluxe tracks. Mac’s lyrics on here are also really great and at times really bittersweet, especially on the title track and the closer Floating, which gives this album an insane amount of heart and emotion. I can’t recommend this album enough to everyone, but especially people who like jazz rap and/or more melodic hip-hop. It’s the best album I’ve heard this year. I’d especially recommend the songs Complicated, Good News, and Floating from the deluxe version.

Eliseo: My favorite artist from last semester was Christian Nodal. I listen to different music from Beethoven to Dan & Shay to Drake. But my favorite artist for most of last semester has to be Christian Nodal. He has made his own sound in Spanish music that brings a norteño and a corrido together that just brings a unique sound to the music. His album, Me Dejé Llevar released in 2018, and AYAYAY! released in May 2020, are two of my favorite albums he released.

They each have their own songs that just get you to your feelings. There is just something about the emotion in his face that pulls you into his reality and makes you feel the passion towards that someone special. I also really enjoy how he uses ensemble to play in the background and even have solos, bringing a whole idea of musicianship to another level. Not going to lie, it is in Spanish and not everyone can understand, but music is music. One key aspect of learning languages is by speaking it, watching a video/movie, and listening to music. With that being said I would recommend De los Besos Que te Di, Aquí Abajo, and the whole album of Me Dejé Llevar. His music is just incredibly emotional and brings such charisma. 

Camryn: My favorite album for the past few months has been the Receive EP by Sure Sure. This short set of songs are all super funky and while they are not drastically different from Sure Sure’s other music, these 3 songs have a distinctly 70s disco and funk influence. “Funky Galileo” was released as a single first back at the beginning of 2020 which was an instant hit while doing the dishes or other household chores. It just makes me want to dance! “What Were We Doing If We Weren’t In Love” and “Receive” have both been released during quarantine and have injected some spice into my otherwise solemn songs I have been playing over the past few months. 

Additionally, Sure Sure performed a week-long virtual tour from their home called “The Sure Sure Home Home Tour” to raise money for the homeless population in LA. It was so encouraging to see one of my favorite bands step into a place of need and help others! 

Molly: I’ll be talking about the only person keeping me sane by the end of last semester: Nina Simone. She seemed to be one of the few people able to encapsulate the proper amount of wisdom in her words to match the depth of confusion and chaos going on at the time, even though her work is decades old. The more I listened to her music, the more I researched her story and watched her speak in interviews — and inevitably my respect and reverence for Nina grew. Her album Forever Young, Gifted and Black is filled to the brim with strength and unforgiving grief, and fits all too well with the narrative we have all watched develop this year. [I recommend the short Radiolab podcast episode called “Nina” about this very topic] Nina Simone has so much to teach us, all we gotta do is start listening. 

What have the HCCS members been listening to?

Check out some album and song suggestions from 4 members of our team! And, don’t forget to follow us on Spotify @hopeconcerts!


Hi everyone! My name is Gina and I’m one of the Co-Directors for Hope College Concert Series! As someone in love with music ranging from Alternative to EDM, choosing just one album that I love can be hard. My Spotify “Discover Weekly” looks like a hot mess. I have everything on there from T-Pain to John Mayer to Galantis. Give me a situation and I will match the mood with a playlist ready to go.

I personally love Dominic Fike’s new album What Could Possibly Go Wrong. If you’re looking for a good song recommendation, I suggest “Chicken Tenders” and “Vampire”. Both are great bops to put on and drive with your friends to (a personal favorite of mine). I chose this song because during last semester’s quarantine, my friends and I put on his new album and just drove. Especially during a time when no new music was coming out, this album drop was very much needed!

Michael: My name is Michael Pineda and I am a Co-Director for Hope College Concert Series this year! My recommended album from the last semester is “Live in Cuba” by the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra.

My personal song favorites are 2/3’s Adventure and Light Blue. It was released in 2015 and as the name suggests, recorded live in Havana, Cuba in the Teatro Mealla. This album has a super special place in my heart – I had this album on repeat during my study abroad semester in Vienna, Austria, which ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I actually saw the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra live in Vienna in one of the concert houses, and it was an incredible experience. This album showcases their extremely high-performance standard and their fluency in the jazz language, and seeing them live is unreal! Each of the musicians is really good, and as a group, they are tightly knit and soulful. If you are not familiar with big band music, this is a great introduction. Here, is a link for a video from this very same concert with the group playing 2/3’s adventure.

Nate: Hello! I’m Nate Koorndyk, a new core member of Concert Series this year. One album I love that helped me get through quarantine was Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers. Released in mid-June, my pandemic feelings had a few months to incubate at this point. I’ve always been one that tries to compartmentalize what I feel, so by this point I was beginning to crack under all the emotion of the times.

I had been following Bridgers’ work for around a year, and frequently listened to her debut Stranger in the Alps. As a result, I was very excited for this album, and it did not disappoint. Bridgers is an extremely honest songwriter, which helped me to get in touch with some of the things I had been feeling in the past months. Themes of isolation and monotony on the album became an outlet for me, while more sonically layered tracks such as “Kyoto” and “ICU” keep the experience dynamic. The album ends with my personal song of the year thus far, “I Know the End.” The song slowly builds into one of the most cathartic musical experiences I know of, which was exactly what I needed to begin to deal with and accept the circumstances we all found ourselves in. Make sure to check this record out, as you will not regret it!

Gracyn: Hey everyone! My name is Gracyn Carter and I am a new core member of Hope Concert Series this year! I would love to share with you one of my favorite songs to come from last semester: “Whatever We Feel” by Sammy Rae and The Friends.

I have been a huge fan of Sammy Rae since fall of last year. Trying to describe her style has always been a bit tricky because of her ability to mesh genres, but I would describe her as a modern jazz/soul sound with a bit of a folksy twist every once in a while. Her smooth and soulful voice mixed with a full jazz band and funky beats is a recipe for a bust of serotonin with every song.

This single in particular was one that provided a much needed ray (no pun intended 😉 of sunshine in the midst of quarantine. I was blessed to have a healthy and happy home to go back to in a crisis, but being alone in my room while trying to stay motivated to do homework proved a challenge for me none the less. However, this funky and fresh tune put a new spin on the idea of isolation by acknowledging the freedom in doing what you feel like when you have space to be alone with your thoughts, feelings, and imagination. With an upbeat ukulele introduction and a lovely blend of harmonies, this song proved to be an anthem for self love, the importance of patience, and hope for the days when we can all be back together to experience true connections. I would highly recommend checking out Sammy Rae’s other music, especially her EP “The Good Life” and her newest single “Living Room Floor.” Until next time, grab your striped socks, your silver hoops, and do whatever you feel!

Where can you find this music?

Check out all these artists and more on Spotify or Apple Music! And don’t forget to give us a follow on Spotify @hopeconcerts!