Until earlier this year, recent Trevecca graduate Madyson Williams (’19) had never set foot in a prison.
These days, she’ll usually find herself there on a monthly basis because of her work with Beat of Life. A Nashville nonprofit, Beat of Life seeks to harness the power of music to minister to the city’s most vulnerable—including those in prison, young students facing bullying and people dealing with mental health issues.
Williams, along with another recent Trevecca graduate, Matt Fredericksen (’19), got involved when Dr. Kim McLean told them about the program. A songwriter herself, McLean, also a member of Trevecca’s faculty, had been involved with the organization for a number of years.
“About four or five years ago, a friend of mine from the music industry contacted me and said they needed professional songwriters for this program that was starting,” McLean said. “My friend thought it sounded like it was right up my alley because it had a ministry aspect.”
Eventually, McLean became a Beat of Life board member. She also found herself yearning to get her students involved with the organization, which would allow them to grow as songwriters, but more than that, allow them to minister to others.
“[Beat of Life]’s mission aligns so well with Trevecca because it is so in line with our ministry,” McLean said. “I knew that Mady and Matt were up for that task.”
Williams’ first Beat of Life event was part of the nonprofit’s Sing It to Stop It, an anti-bullying initiative that allows the organization to send songwriters into classrooms. As Beat of Life’s flagship youth-based program, Sing It to Stop It has opened the door for other avenues, says Jeni Dominelli, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit.
“Bullying is an issue, especially cyber-bullying, and we found out that Metro Nashville Public Schools actually had a mandate to come up with a solution to the bullying problem,” Dominelli says, outlining the history of the program. “But as we’ve been going along, we keep getting asked about [Sing It to Stop It] by other youth centers, including those devoted to students with special needs or autism or youth on the school-to-prison pipeline. We really just started tackling all the issues kids are going through.”
After taking part in that first Sing It to Stop It event—Fredericksen was there, too—both Trevecca students decided they wanted to get more involved with Beat of Life.
“I really liked it,” Williams says. “So, I decided to do the training and take part in Redemption Songs program.”
The prison co-writes can be challenging, McLean says. A pair of songwriters are matched with an inmate and have a couple of hours to create a song.
“You have to be equipped and know your craft,” she says. “You write fast and perform the song you’ve written in front of about 200 people. It’s intense and scary.”
For Fredericksen and Williams, being able to help the men or women they’ve been paired with express their thoughts in song is an honor and a joy.
“It’s a way that I can help someone else out,” Fredericksen says. “A lot of time in their own heads. . . it’s a way to get it out. I like being the catalyst for that—not really the catalyst, I guess, but the medium.”
“I just love the fact that I’m getting to help someone else tell their story,” Williams says. “The last lady I worked with—her song was for her sons, just a way to express her feelings. It’s really a form of therapy. They can write their feelings out and keep it as a record.”
Now Trevecca graduates, both Williams and Fredericksen plan to stay involved with the nonprofit. McLean hopes that up-and-coming Trevecca songwriters follow in their footsteps.
“Our students don’t tend to come into the program to say, ‘I want the world to notice my music,’” she says. “Rather, they ask, ‘How can I bless the world with my music?’ That’s our motto: to love people with our songs. And that’s a really different priority [from many songwriters].”
Mandy Crow is the editor of the Treveccan and the manager of content and media relations for the University. When she’s not writing about Trevecca, she enjoys reading classic British literature, cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals and hanging out with her family, friends and dog, Mac.