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Museum's Lyric Project connects budding songwriters to Motown legends

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Some aspiring songwriters got a unique chance to work with some living legends in the field as part of Motown Museum's new Lyric Project. 

The online workshop starting as a two-week experience where kids ages 13-18 learned not only about building and producing a song, but also how music can create change in society.

Young songwriters participating in the Motown Museum's Lyric Project this summer.

Twenty students were selected to be part of a more intimate workshop, and from there they self-nominated 10 to advance to a third week of the program. There, they collaborated with the museum and Motown songwriter Brian Holland to craft an original track, "Song of Hope," which will be arranged by Funk Brother Paul Riser Sr. and recorded by award-winning music director Kern Brantley. 

Chairwoman and CEO for Motown Museum Robin Terry said nearly 150 students from five states applied to be part of the first-ever Lyric Project. 

"That's one of the things I'm most proud of," she said. "It was every demographic and yet they were all drawn to this songwriting experience at this moment in our history, all felt the need to want to write and better understand how to articulate their feelings."

Terry said that while the Motown Museum often hosts series like this for budding artists — like the Ignite and Spark summer camps and the Motown Mic: The Spoken Word competition series — the Lyric Project was the first geared toward songwriters. 

"It really exceeded expectations," she said. "We got a lot of singer/songwriters but the way that they interpreted what's going on in the world around them and the way that they worked collaboratively, to come up with the message for their songs, it was a powerful exercise. I was really moved by how well everybody worked together and respected each others' gift as a songwriter." 

For the first two weeks the kids had Zoom sessions and "homework" to help them explore and deconstruct classic songs to learn how they were crafted. 

"They studied storytelling in songwriting," said Terry. "Motown was really used as a foundation for what they were learning and the kind of storytelling that you would see in a Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder song, and artists that are known for socially conscious music. That gave them sort of a framework to some degree, and then what they brought to it was purely original, their own lyrics and rhythm and tempo."

Terry said the ultimate aspect of the workshop, which is free to the kids courtesy of the Fisher Foundation, is being able to work with the Motown legends to create "Song of Hope," which is being worked on this week. 

"The students are planning a listening party for sure, and then we'll look at how we can release it," said Terry, adding that the students showed a great level of respect for Holland, who they worked with this week.

"The gratitude that they showed toward Brian and just really appreciating the rare opportunity that someone would have at their level to spend time him and co-create with them, it didn't go over their heads at all," she said. 

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The Motown Museum is seen, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Detroit. The building where Berry Gordy Jr. built his music empire reopened its doors to the public on Wednesday. It had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.