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Kyshona Asks Us All To 'Listen'

Hannah Miller

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kyshona will perform at the Dyck Arboretum in Hesston Sunday, Nov. 24, as part of the Prairie Window Concert Series. The show begins at 4 p.m.

Kyshona will also release the album "Listen" on Feb. 28, 2020.

The former full-time music therapist recently spoke with KMUW about her past work and this upcoming release.

Interview Highlights

You worked as a music therapist. What led you into that line of work?

When I was young I wanted to study psychology. But I was trained in piano and oboe and knew that I could go to college for music, scholarship purposes. Then somebody told me about music therapy and how I could combine psychology and music. It went from there. It was a young field when I learned about it. I ended up at the University of Georgia and shadowed a couple of music therapists, we were able to bring music into hospitals, patients' rooms, nursing homes. Institutions. We could use music to change behavior.

I imagine that you're not only teaching people to play instruments, but you're also teaching them to write as well.

The point of music in any therapeutic setting was to achieve a non-musical goal. The point was never for someone to become a great guitarist or whatever. The point was for them just to be successful. A lot of times, especially if someone had a disability, I would tune an instrument differently so that it was easier to play. Or I would color code something. But it was always geared toward a goal that the physical therapist had or a speech therapist had. As far as songwriting, we would use it as a way to deal with anger management, to use it as a way to deal with past experiences. Things that patients had been talking about in their private therapy sessions would come up in songwriting. We would flesh that out together. It was also a way for the patients to have a mantra and take it with themselves as their own reminder and self-soothing tool.

You also did work in the corrections community.

The mental hospital I worked at in Georgia, for three or four years, had a forensics unit. We had a band called The Mellotones. Those were the guys that were soon-to-be-released. We were trying to integrate them back into society. What better way than to put them all in a band, teach them to play instruments, teach them to play all their favorite songs? They had to have the skills of communicating with bandmates and making decisions, shooting down decisions, learning tasks. I also worked with at-risk youth in youth detention centers.

Even though I've left the field as a music therapist outright, I go into a women's jail here in Nashville and I teach songwriting to the women there that have been through every program known to man. Our program is called The Academy, so we're using songwriting to take in everything that they're learning in all their classes that are based on mind, body, spirit. Fifteen women are all working together to write a song and tell their stories. They take that song and their story to the rest of the jail, to the other inmates. It sparks a conversation and inspires other women that are incarcerated.

I'm able to take their stories out into the world so that people understand what it's really like and what they're struggling with and that there's not much separating people behind bars from those that are walking out here in our own prisons.

Was some of that inspiration for the upcoming record?

Absolutely. I've worked with people that were at their rock bottom. I've worked with people that were incarcerated. The same conversations that I'm having with people who are behind bars, behind walls, their struggles are the same as the ones I hear from friends of mine or people that I meet when I'm on the road touring. It's this common thread: There's not much dividing us. How can I make sure that I'm a vessel and voice for those who don't feel like they have a voice right now?

The album opens with the song "Listen." It's such a simple statement but I think it's something we fail to do all the time.

Yes. [Laughs.] I was on the phone with one of my best friends yesterday. She's a mother of two and has a third one coming. She was just talking about life. I was sensing the problems she's having, so I was trying to problem-solve. I said, "How can I help you right now?" She said, "I just want you to listen to me!" Sometimes we think we know what's best for people. Just stop talking and start listening.

You recently released the song "Fear."

My brother was living with me. He's a husband with three kids. He was traveling between Nashville and South Carolina. He had a Saturday off and was sitting here and we wondered about all the places we didn't go in life because of fear. The routes in life that we didn't take. "How much sooner could I have found myself in this place if I hadn't listened to fear?" The title is "Fear" but we never say it. You gotta call it out but never say its name. Once we do that, we have to move past it and not let fear control our every step.

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.