Collaboration is the Nashville custom. More often than not, it takes the form of traditional co-writing, as in, two or more pros gathered in a room to bang out verses, chords and a pithy hook. That was all new to Kyshona when she came to town eight years ago, but she brought with her an array of other experience in collective creation and a broad understanding of what musical community can mean.
During her South Carolina youth, she learned to blend with an orchestra as an instrumentalist, and from there, she steered her education toward the relatively new field of music therapy. As she’s established herself as a singer-songwriter in the two decades since, she hasn’t left her past approaches behind entirely so much as accumulated insight from successive collaborations and put all of it to use in an expanding list of settings, a dozen of which are summed up here.
► Playing oboe in South Carolina Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra: Kyshona explained during a sit-down at her Inglewood home, “The sound of the oboe, to me, is very human. It sounds like a voice. I just love how emotive it is and how the sound of the oboe pierces through a whole orchestra. Also, they get to tune the entire orchestra. It’s kind of great. I picked up oboe and found that I could escape and close my eyes and sway in circles and go somewhere else.”
► Playing steel drums in a group called Tropical Breeze
► Marching on the drumline of the Georgia Redcoat Marching Band
► Working with the rehabilitation team at Emory University Hospital’s adult psychiatric care facility: “It was just kind of eye-opening that you can help to control a heart rate, you can calm a heart rate, through notes and through sound. The thing that had allowed me to escape and heal myself, in a way I could bring that into a hospital room or treatment room or treatment center. A lot of that, I would be in group settings with a physical therapist or an occupational therapist, and I’m providing the music. It looks like I’m an entertainer, you know? But in truth, what’s happening is I’m watching everyone and I know what needs this patient has.”
► Serving as the music therapist of Rutland Academy, a behavioral rehabilitation school: “They knew that in the treatment room with me, they could say whatever they needed to say. I’m not judging. I’m not correcting how you feel. It’s how you feel. So there’s a lot of lyric analysis, a lot of rewriting songs that spoke to them. We would change the lyrics so that it related to them in a more personal way, and we would even write short mantras.”
► Diving into Nashville co-writing and performing: As Kyshona noted in an email, “Jenn Bostic is a songwriter I met before I ever moved to Nashville. I consider meeting her the pivotal moment when I got the message that it was time to move. The Ride 2.0 is FULL of songs I wrote with her. We also have a song on the Listen album. Shannon LaBrie is an artist I met within my first two years of living here. We met playing a BMI showcase at Mercy Lounge and have since toured together and co-written many songs together. Hannah Miller is a songwriter I met years ago in Atlanta while playing a set at Smith’s Olde Bar, who introduced me to the inclusive culture of Nashville when I would stop through and visit. She is now a person that I work with for sync licensing, music advice and monthly margarita meetings. Ryan Madora is a bassist I met in my first year here. She has remained a good friend and played on nearly every recording I’ve made since. Ellen Angelico is a gem of a human that I also met within my first year here. Ellen has toured with me in my band, recorded on nearly every project and even fed the band and crew when we were making Listen. I consider Ellen another soul that realizes the importance of community in this town.”
► Getting involved in songwriting education programs: “The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum brought me in years ago to do a ‘Words and Music’ program with the youth. Since then, they have consistently invited me to write with them in their community programs with Oasis Center, CreatiVets, Top Floor, Martha O’Bryan Center and their summer songwriting camps.”
► Showing up in spaces that nourish music scenes: “I remember when I first stepped into the 5 Spot for Jason Eskridge’s Sunday Night Soul. I had FINALLY found the place where the Black folk gathered! I had finally found a room and space that celebrated the music and sounds that I LOVE and grew up on. To this day, Jason is like a big brother to me. He has given me advice, opportunities to sing and play on stages and in studio sessions alongside him, and most recently, he provided my organization with a substantial amount of grant funding through a donation he was awarded as a ‘Local Legend.’”
► Forming the Kyshona Vocal Trio with Nickie Conley and Maureen Murphy: “I have watched these two women own the stage, singing their own songs, and they are both such powerful forces. I have also witnessed them support other artists as background vocalists, and I feel like they bring that same powerful energy. It has been my dream to sing with both Nickie and Maureen. It was an even greater dream to be friends with the two of them. Having them tour and perform with me feels like I have a foundation. They make me feel so sturdy and supported when we step on stage together. I LOVE the act of blending with them and also stepping back and letting them relinquish their full vocal power on the listeners.”
► Launching the therapeutic songwriting nonprofit Your Song: “My vision for Your Song is that we help communities all over the country and/or globe write and share their stories through song. Touring is fun and awesome, but it can also go very fast and feel a bit like a whirlwind. My full vision is that YS invites performing arts centers to seek out an organization that they’d like to provide therapeutic songwriting to, and we will set up a session to write. The day of a performance, the participants are invited to come and share their song on stage, thus diversifying the audience, growing the PAC’s audience base and creating a thread in the community.”