Amid darkness of massacre, student songwriters 'Shine' light
By ERIKA PESANTES
Mar. 10, 2018
PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Sawyer Garrity sat at the breakfast table three days after a former student shot up her high school. She was too upset to eat her bagel. Confused, angry, aching with grief. She knew she wanted to do something to help everyone get through this. She texted furiously with her classmate Andrea Peña, who felt the same.
Andrea played around with a few chords on a keyboard in her dining room. "This could be something," she thought. Could they write a song? She texted Sawyer a riff in a voice memo.
An opening line popped into Sawyer's head.
You, you threw this city away
Sawyer darted to her room, and grabbed a notebook she writes songs in. She played Andrea's chords over and over. She texted some lyrics back to Andrea, and that was enough to open the spigot. Sorrow morphed into song. Part of a chorus tumbled out onto the page.
You're not gonna knock us down
We'll get back up again
You may have hurt us
But I promise we'll be stronger
Andrea had never composed an entire song before, but it was happening now. Sawyer often sought refuge writing song lyrics and poems. But she had never tried to write words rooted in this kind of anguish — words she hoped would speak for the 17 dead and all who had cowered in closets and under desks while bullets flew at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day.
The back and forth continued in a 15-minute burst of creativity on that Saturday. On Monday night they met at Andrea's house and spent 30 minutes collaborating. More chords, a key change, the musical bridge, more lyrics.
We're not gonna let you win
We're putting up a fight
You may have brought the dark
But together we will shine the light.
"Shine" was born.
Two days later, Sawyer and Andrea were standing on a stage at the BB&T Center performing the song live in front of 7,000 people. They were the closing act for CNN's Town Hall Meeting on the shooting. Millions of viewers were tuned in.
After it was over, what they had just pulled off finally hit them.
"People were texting and sending videos on Snapchat and Instagram," Andrea said, in an exclusive interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "And I was like 'Wait, Sawyer, we actually just performed on CNN. We actually came up with this song, and we actually performed in front of that great of an audience.' I was really proud of us."
The mass exposure, and the clamor for a copy of "Shine" from around the globe, gave the girls their next big idea: releasing the song to the public right before the "March For Our Lives," which will take place in D.C. later this month. They want to use any money raised to help kids heal through the arts.
Despite the incredible moment, Andrea Peña, 15, and Sawyer Garrity, 16, wish there had been no need to write "Shine."
"The events that happened to create this song should never have happened," Sawyer said. "This song should never have existed in the first place."
There is anger and confusion that she can't shake.
"How could someone do this?" Sawyer said. "How could someone just walk onto a school and hurt that many people and kill that many people?"
There are no answers, no solace at the moment. The young songwriters know that. But they want "Shine" to offer a message of hope to start the healing.
The hour and a half they spent hiding in a hot, cramped closet with 60 classmates will forever haunt them. When the shots rang out, Sawyer and Andrea were together in their drama class in a building not too far from where their schoolmates would die. Both heard the gunfire. It seemed unreal.
But as texts came in from friends and relatives — and school dismissal time came and went — the girls realized it was real. Still, their brains couldn't wrap around the idea that their campus was being shot up. Maybe one or two people got hurt, and they would be OK, they hoped.
"The whole time I just felt like I was going to throw up," Sawyer said.
It was worse than they could have imagined: 17 dead, 16 injured. Sawyer and Andrea were mass shooting survivors.
"I didn't know how to register it," Sawyer said. "I was stunned."
Despite the horror that inspired the song, Andrea managed to plunk out a catchy pop tune, but one with undertones of aching melancholy. Sawyer's lyrics are angry, confronting the shooter at first. Then they turn defiant, promising that these kids will persevere and shine their light. They won't be stopped by fear or by adults who try to quash their voices.
We're gonna stand tall
Gonna raise up our voices so we never fall
We're done with all your little games
We're tired of hearing that we're too young to ever make a change
They have recorded "Shine" at a professional studio with the help of a Miami producer who donated his time and equipment. The next step: release "Shine" on iTunes and Spotify before the March 24 rally in D.C. that is being organized by students at Stoneman Douglas. Oprah and George and Amal Clooney are helping to bankroll the march, along with other celebrities.
Whatever money "Shine" raises will help fund a nonprofit the girls' parents are helping them set up. It's called #ShineMSD. The aim: to encourage shooting survivors to release their pain through poetry, art, music, dance — any creative outlet.
For Andrea and Sawyer, in the midst of their pain, their talents swelled.
Before "Shine," they had never before worked together on a song, but they admired each other's talents. Sawyer sings and plays guitar and ukulele. Andrea sings and plays guitar too, but piano is her forte. The pair met just six months ago when the school year began. And they found themselves in the same drama class.
Sawyer, who lives in Coral Springs, transferred in August from a charter school to Stoneman Douglas. She's been singing her whole life. She actually sang her first words. Her mother says at nine months, baby Sawyer opened her mouth and out came "Bye, Bye, Bye" — she was parroting back the lyrics and tune of the boy band 'NSync's hit, which was playing on the car radio. Sawyer is also a vet of children's theatre; she performed with a local company called Broadway Bound. She started writing her own songs in middle school.
Andrea, of Parkland, also began singing as a child. She was obsessed with Dora the Explorer and ran around the house singing songs from the cartoon. She started taking classical piano lessons in kindergarten. And about three years ago started taking guitar lessons.
During the text conversation on Feb. 17, Sawyer told Andrea she didn't know how to help after the school shooting. So they decided to try to write a song.
"We were both just lost and I didn't think it would turn into anything good at all," Sawyer said.
"It's as if we were having a conversation through piano and lyrics and coming together to make this song," Andrea said.
Once they finished the song, they shared it with their drama teacher, Melody Herzfeld, who listened to it as she left a student's funeral. "Those little babies," she said, moved by their song. "They're beautiful."
"The blessings our kids have is their art. One thing I've always told my kids is we offer joy, we offer hope," Herzfeld said.
Herzfeld then shared "Shine" with Congressman Ted Deutch's assistant. The following day, Tuesday, CNN said they wanted the girls to perform it at the Town Hall on Wednesday.
As they stood on the stage, they were moved by what they saw. Outstretched arms waved twinkling cellphones in the air. Audience members wept. They fed off the crowd's energy and grew more emotional as the song went on.
Then came the outpouring of support and praise. The aunt of one of the fallen students reached out to say how comforting the song had been to her. On Sunday, when students returned to the high school for the first time since the shooting, Andrea walked into a classroom and "Shine" was playing on a loop. The teacher said listening to it made her feel better.
"I didn't know how much of an impact it had, and I almost started crying," Andrea said.
People across the globe sent messages on Twitter. One of them was a student studying abroad in India. The song inspired her to create a drawing of the girls on stage, their lyrics floating around them: "You're not gonna knock us down. We'll get back up again. You may have hurt us. But I promise we are stronger."
"Art and music is such a universal language that everyone understands," Andrea said. "No matter where you come from, no matter who you are, it's just a way of bringing people together from all over. And it's really powerful."
The girls' CNN performance capped a night of political clashes and high emotions. "It was like a sigh of relief" at the end, Andrea said.
During the performance, other drama club students recited spoken verses demanding action.
"I didn't think the song would be as big as it was. It's become something so much bigger than the both of us," Sawyer said. "It's become — I don't want to be cocky or say it's become the anthem of the movement, but I feel like it has because it's what we're feeling. It comes from the kids of Parkland and, it comes from the people who have experienced it."
"It's our call for action and hope," Sawyer said. "It's what we want for the future."
Whoooaaa we will be something special
Whooooaaa we're gonna shine (shine)
Information from: Sun Sentinel , http://www.sun-sentinel.com/