‘The process of understanding myself:’ Student musicians talk songwriting, vulnerability and more

A female student wearing headphones over her ears stands in front of a rose bush with her hands in her pockets.
Mary Celestin HM ’21 released her EP “Welcome to September” on Sept. 1. (Stella Favaro • The Student Life)

Next time you’re singing in the shower or biking to class, consider skipping a Hot 100 single and jamming to a Claremont-grown track.

Tahiv McGee PO ’21, Mary Celestin HM ’21 and Lena Proctor CM ’21 are all 5C student musicians, who write, record and promote their music in between classes and extracurriculars.

McGee primarily makes R&B and rap music, inspired by his emotions and personal life. He said his songwriting is therapeutic, giving him an outlet to express himself. 

“All of my songs are ways for me to go about the process of understanding myself,” he said. “By having a conversation with the listener … it is kind of like [when] you learn a new concept, and you’re [able] to show that you actually know it [by explaining] it to somebody else.” 

Because music pushed him to tackle deeply profound feelings, McGee credited song-writing with the rise of his self awareness.

 “I think that it is extremely helpful because once I embody whatever emotion I’m feeling at the moment, I’m able to get it out.”

Proctor, who makes alternative R&B music, reflected on how her writing style is a mix of reality and fantasy. 

“Sometimes I write directly on things that have happened to me, and sometimes I imagine the way things could be,” she said. 

The depth of Proctor’s writing is reflected in the content of her songs. 

“A lot of times I write songs to different versions of myself,” she said, describing past pieces about her younger self, ego and mind. “I believe that the words are just as important as the way that I sing them.”

Celestin, whose music falls into the genre neo soul lofi, said her songwriting style is spontaneous, often sparked by moments of excitement or intensity in her life. 

She recounted being stressed during midterms in the fall of her sophomore year. She was in the basement of an academic building at 1 a.m. when she decided to take a break to create. 

“I started listening to instrumentals on SoundCloud, and I started writing [lyrics] on the whiteboard,” she said.

Although McGee, Proctor and Celestin’s music are ultimately very personal, they hope that audiences will listen to their work and extract feelings of empowerment.

Proctor hopes listeners will be inspired to show strength in vulnerability. 

“We live in a time where being emotional negatively connotes weakness,” she said. “I try to push myself to embrace the darker sides of myself in my music — to not pretend to be perfect because I am far from it.” 

McGee shared his experience with homelessness and not having “the standard family unit.” 

“I want my listeners to take away the fact that no matter what we go through, and no matter what our environment made us out to be, we still have the choice to be, and to handle things, whatever way that we choose,” he said. 

Despite it being difficult for him to express pain with those around him, McGee maintains that owning his story allowed him to derive a sense of control in his life. He hopes listeners can feel the same. 

Proctor similarly takes pride in her identity as an Asian American woman. 

“My mixed racial identity is something that I have thought about a lot,” she said. “Over the years, I have come into myself and have built confidence in the fact that I don’t fit into conventional categories.” 

Proctor acknowledged how difficult it is to know where she belongs in the music industry because of the scarcity of Asian American voices. 

“I don’t see a lot of representation of people who ‘look like me’ in the media, let alone in the music industry,” she said.

However, she expressed that her identity allows her to be free of expectations from others. 

“At my very core, I am not one thing,” she said. “I am complex, and I allowed myself to embrace this in my music.”

Proctor’s EP “In Between,” McGee’s EP “Perspective” and Celestin’s EP “Welcome to September” are all available on Apple Music, Spotify and SoundCloud.

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