Songwriting Made Easy: Kiarah Hortance ’17 Shares Skills at Mash-Up

“Don’t write about nuclear bombs or photosynthesis,” said Kiarah Hortance ’17.

Hortance’s songwriting tips were part of her presentation, “The Bass of a Song,” which took place last Friday in Samuel Phillips Hall. The presentation was organized by Mash-Up, a club started by Ethan Brown ’17 that hosts workshops on mathematics, arts, sciences and humanities.

“My goal was to show people that songwriting really isn’t as impossible as it’s made out to be,” said Hortance in an email to The Phillipian. “While it does require lots of attention and time, music composition is like any other skill in that it only gets better the more you practice it.”

Hortance started the talk by playing a song called “Hide With Me,” a soulful piece she had written herself that uses bass drum and faint echoes to create a feeling of depth.

“‘Hide With Me’ was one of those songs I wrote without really thinking about it,” said Hortance. “It wasn’t until I decided to use it for this workshop that I considered what I was truly talking about. I wrote it after coming home from a trip to visit some other family members.… ‘Hide With Me’ is really about trying to find out if I have a place among everyone in my family and what that place is.”

After showing the audience an example of what a final song looks like, Hortance went into detail about each step of the songwriting process, including lyrics, chord progression and production. She attempted to make the presentation understandable to those who had never written a song before.

“I’ve always been interested in songwriting, but it’s never been something I could do. Now I think I could if I really wanted to,” said Grace Anthony ’17.

Hortance was invited by Mash-Up after performing a song at a Class of 2017 meeting. She then wrote the script for “The Bass of a Song” over the summer.

“It was actually really hard to write the script because I had trouble describing how I write music,” said Hortance. “My process can sometimes change depending on the song, so it took a lot longer to decide how I was going to explain this than it did to actually write it. Once I had the script, it was just a matter of memorization and practice.”

After teaching audience members the basics of music composition, Hortance instructed students to group up and try to compose their own pieces. Though the process was daunting, Hortance made it easier by reminding audience members to first write lyrics, then choose chords and finally put the two together.

“[Hortance] made jokes throughout the presentation, which kept it lively,” said audience member Abdu Donka ’18. “She also talked about current artists and compared her style of music to their songs, which made the presentation very relevant to us.”