Mark Cutler – Courtesy of Mark Cutler

When we read about The Same Thing Project recently in Motif Magazine, we knew we had to learn more. Let’s start with a 30,000-foot overview. What is the Project? 

The Same Thing Project is a “Songwriting For Everyone” program whose purpose is to create connections between unlikely collaborators, breaking through aloneness and finding common ground via songwriting workshops

A core part is community songwriting. What is that – and is it a new concept? 

It is a new concept. We’re one of the first programs to gather a group of folks from different backgrounds and create a song in order to forge a bond between participants. The act of writing a song/writing lyrics with others is sharing something previously hidden inside your heart. When you do it with others, I believe the shared experience can be a beautiful thing.

The aim is enhancing mental health and overall well-being. How does community songwriting do that?

Too many people are feeling isolated and adrift and The Same Thing Project attempts to demonstrate that we have more things in common than things that keep us apart. We write and sing about these things. After a session, what we find is that people feel less alone and more uplifted by taking part in creating a song with other folks. Knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles is very powerful. This workshop, to quote a friend, “gives people agency.”

Describe a typical session: who, what, when and where, to use the old journalism saw. 

We have different workshops but the one that happens most regularly is the one we do on Tuesday mornings at The Outsider Collective. Folks from various backgrounds — young, old, blue collar, white collar, developmentally disabled, musicians, non-musicians, etc. — gather together and we start a conversation about something that someone has thought about or observed. A person will add to the conversation and a lyric develops. Another person bounces an idea and maybe a theme starts to form. It could be about love, changing seasons, the moon, or whatever, and we share thoughts. Nobody’s idea is discarded. Everyone shapes the song. I’ll ask the crowd to suggest letters between A and G (the notes on the scale) and we create a chord progression. The song starts taking form. By the end of the session, a song is written.

Is anyone welcome and is there a cost?

At the Tuesday morning session, anyone and everyone is welcome. It’s a free program. Through the generosity of Avatar and Outsider Collective, I’m able to run these workshops for free. Other sessions are for hire and we do accept gifts and donations.

The Project has led to an album, “Walks of Life Collaborations.” What’s on it? 

That album is actually a few years old and we’re working on our next record. They’re songs about things people go through and experience. There are songs about wishing for a love, leaving someone behind, common ground, etc. All the participants sing on it and we had some help with the music. I recorded music at my studio and on voices on location. We’re all very proud.

What is the National Museum of Mental Health Project? We understand you are involved.

From its website: “The National Museum of Mental Health Project, Inc. is a nonprofit organization and ‘museum without walls’ that researches and creates exhibitions that can transform society’s attitudes about, and understanding of, mental health. Through the development of online exhibits, NMMHP does what museums do best – educate, interpret, advance dialogue, and develop literacy on the topic of mental health.”

I got involved when co-director, Paul Piwko contacted me after he read an article about workshops I’ve conducted with the National Park Service. He is passionate about improving mental health, especially on college campuses, and he is a brilliant man. We both believe in the mission and have been working together for a few years now.

Talk about music in general. Is it true that it can soothe the soul? 

Music is a miracle. It can express things that words alone can’t. When you combine the two, magic happens. It can sooth and stir the soul and it can make you groove and dance.

On a related note, if you’ll pardon the pun, laughter is often associated with music. We published a story recently about laughter as good medicine – would you agree that it is? 

Of course laughter is a good medicine. When you laugh you release stress and stress is a killer. You want to live longer? Laugh more.

And let’s hear about your own musical roots. You are a member of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. Can you recap your career for us? 

I’m a proud member of the RIMHOF through my bands, The Schemers, The Raindogs, and solo stuff. I started playing when I was a kid and I feel very lucky to have found something that I could love to do for the rest of my life. Even when my music had to take a back seat, it was always there for me. It’s like a great friend. With the Same Thing Project, I get to share my love of creativity and turn other folks onto it. I’ve been playing music since the late 60’s and I’ll always be grateful for having it in my life.