Changing the World One Song at a Time

Danielle Dreilinger
October 1, 2009
Live acoustic set on the BIRN radio show <i>Rhyme and Reason</i>.
Photo courtesy of the artist

"Give Peace a Chance." "We Are the World." "Do They Know It's Christmas?" There's no question a song can make people care about societal problems. Berklee students tried to hit the same notes in a smaller way in the Counseling and Advising Center's second substance abuse prevention songwriting contest.

Aryn Michelle Calhoun '09 took top honors this spring with her song "Crave." Neil Cleary placed second, and Bob Bradshaw third. Songwriting faculty chose the winners from over 40 entries.

The competition is "a good way for students to get involved and start thinking about substance abuse and how it's affected their lives," said Barbara Martin of Berklee's Counseling and Advising Center. Funding came from a federal grant for substance abuse prevention*.

Martin noted, though, that the reality of drug abuse on campus "is actually a lot better than people's perceptions," she said. A 2008 survey found that "Berklee is well below the national average." In the spring, the center launched a social norms marketing campaign to let students know the facts.

Michelle embraced both the creative and philosophical challenges of the contest. "I really enjoy writing to a theme," she said, and valued "using my craft to do something important." In 2008, she wrote the song "Childhood Left Behind" for the International Initiative to End Child Labor. She's now turning it into a music video.

The contest judges wanted an uplifting message. Michelle went through a few ideas, aiming for the right tone: "It's hard not to either be too cheesy or too preachy." She finally hit on a scene of a recovering addict sharing his story. The warm pop-country strings and bittersweet, soaring vocals convey hope even as the narrator struggles:

"The next time's the last time,"
I'd say it over and over again

(Appropriately enough, he turns his life around in the song's bridge.)

Listen to "Crave" on Aryn Michelle's website.

Although Michelle's hands have been full reestablishing herself in her native Texas, "I would really like to find maybe some organizations that would be interested in using it in a campaign," she said. She has a great demo to show them: As part of the prize, Michelle recorded the song professionally at Q Division Studios.

Martin hopes to keep raising awareness of substance abuse by making the songwriting competition an annual event. Next year, she said, "We're hoping to really market this" to get even more students involved.

* This program is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, awarded through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.