"Songwriters have a duty to hear, see, and feel the hurt and the joy, and turn it into a language and experience that everyone can understand. Love always wins, and music is its most powerful weapon against all sorrow.” – Ashley Bell
Nine years ago, Hamilton, Ontario singer/songwriter and BIRDSONG artist Ashley Bell’s life as an active single mom of two boys – and a musician – seemed all but over.
A calamitous car accident left her with Traumatic Brain Injury, and the resultant chronic anxiety and depression linger to this day. While her serious physical injuries and disabilities all healed quickly considering their severity, cognitive struggles persisted. They’ve too subsided, but Bell’s depressive tendencies and the anxiety she experienced prior to the accident were magnified.
She still has panic attacks and fits of rage that leave her exhausted physically and emotionally. Being well-rested and clear headed is a daily challenge. She has persevered and overcome many obstacles – yet she feels like she's in a perpetual state of repair, and relearning.
“I picked up my guitar and started strumming a simple chord progression, until a melody popped in my head,” says the affable and thoughtful Bell of her first attempts at returning to her first love, so long after the accident. “It didn’t sound pretty, but words came pouring out. I began writing about my personal journey and my current state. Each time a hopeless line popped into my head, it was argued away by a promise of hope.
“By the end of the day, I had written a song that addressed my depression, clearly and honestly, and the final chorus had a clear promise that my dreams were going to come true. I felt like a songwriter again, and I felt like a seed had been planted that was going to grow bigger than I could imagine. It was then that I decided that I was going to start focusing on what I can do, and what I know, and continue creating and growing as a writer.”
It was about this time too that a dear friend made Bell aware of the BIRDSONG grant. She didn’t hold out much hope, but did take advantage of the suggestion to listen to the music of the foundation’s namesake, David Martin, as well as to pursue an audition.
“As I listened to David’s music, I could feel his intentions for creating beautiful sound and I felt inspired,” she says. “With each song, I was reminded what a miracle it is to be gifted with musical talent. Songwriters have a duty to hear, see, and feel the hurt and the joy, and turn it into a language and experience that everyone can understand. Love always wins, and music is its most powerful weapon against all sorrow.
“I was in awe of David’s music, and felt a strong connection to his pure love for it. I was reminded of how much I loved creating music, and that I still have words and melodies to share. So I went for it. Just auditioning changed everything for me. The studio experience was just unbelievable, and I received the exact support that I needed.
“They made it clear, just by allowing me to be myself, that my mental illness and insecurities are not who I am as a musician. They are not who I am as a writer, singer, or performer. They are a part of me. They can be an obstacle but they are not. They are being used for good things that will last forever.”
While Bell’s gratitude for the BIRDSONG experience is abundant, she always goes back to the music, and her “music-as-life" analogy, to address how profoundly she believes it has saved hers.
“Musical theory and orchestration are great analogies for how the world works,” she says. “It shows how pain can be acknowledged as the moments, or seasons, that make you stronger. It reminds that many sounds and talents can be collaborated to make everything more beautiful.
“The crescendos and decrescendos of life help you ease into the loud joy and the quiet sorrows that are inevitable and essential for growth. Tempo changes remind us that it's good to slow down, and really focus – not everything should be upbeat anyway. Every rest makes the next measure sweeter. Less is sometimes more. And many a great song, at some point, feels like it might be over.
“But then they come back in with unexpected energy and power and build right back up. That’s the part I’m at. My song is definitely not over yet.”