It took 32 years to muster the courage to release this song about fear. In 1991, I collaborated with my dear friend, Mary Anne Sellers-Cowgill, to write the song "Won't Be Afraid" for a college project. As the last project of the Composition and Arranging Program at the Dick Grove School of Music, it was to be recorded by a 40-piece orchestra. That fear became the basis of this song.
When the school announced it was going bankrupt, some of my classmates decided to gift the school by sacrificing the recording session to help the school. I used this as an excuse not to complete the chart for the orchestra. I was very happy with the song once completed, for Mary Anne and I had put into words what I was experiencing, but also the words that I needed to hear. However, I still decided not to act on the courage and passed on the opportunity to record it with the full orchestra.
Four years later, Mary Anne and I collaborated on writing a musical, Awake! A Subliminal Opera, and we featured "Won't Be Afraid" as the hero's comeback song. Though it was recorded on video in the live performance, we did not record a soundtrack. I continued to sing this song in live performances for years and still do, but refused to record it because I believed I wouldn't get the arrangement right, I thought that it deserved a full live orchestra. My procrastination was, ironically, fear and perfectionism.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to arrange the work for the full orchestra at the University of Miami. I arranged it as though it was for a Disney-style film: fun, animated, playful. The orchestra applauded when they finished playing it, which was quite an honor. My professor said it sounded like it was written by an eighth grader for a junior high orchestra. I was confused because he had looked at my progress for several weeks before the session and never said anything about this and was helping me make decisions as I progressed. What's more, my composition teacher was also guiding me as I wrote this orchestration. When he gave me a grade C, I was devastated and angry. Most of all, I felt humiliated and never added my vocal and did a final audio mix of the session. I lost the digital files altogether.
If it wasn't perfect, it wasn't worth finishing.
My hesitation to record it again stemmed from the high expectations I had held for what it should be in my head. These expectations, driven by my perfectionism, had previously held me back from even attempting to record the song. In 2015, somehow, I concluded that I just needed to record it even if it was just piano and vocal. Though I was satisfied with the performance, I still decided not to release it because I didn't want people to think I wasn't capable of giving it the orchestration it deserved. It needed to be bigger and better than anything I had ever done before. I think I had it in my head that it needed to be so good, that it would be the song that would be my breakthrough in the big leagues. It sat on my hard drive...until last month, November 2023.
I had been creating song playlists every week for one of my group coaching programs, and this particular week the theme was fear. Since the playlist was on YouTube, I needed to add some sort of video. I started going through old footage on my hard drive, and that's when I stumbled upon this 2013 footage of me spreading joy in Times Square. Interestingly, during that time of shooting the video, I was in the depths of a deep depression, a struggle concealed in the video.
Through my journey of recovery and spiritual growth, I've learned that being a light for others also illuminates my path out of darkness. It felt right to use this footage because it represented my journey of listening to my inner voice, facing my fears, and shining my light by handing out love notes, writing love notes to people in Times Square, offering warm smiles, handing them the notes, and telling them they're amazing.
When I shared the video with the participants of the coaching group, I kept the link private. Their response to the video was so affirming and positive that I decided to share it and make it public. I shared it with a few of my close friends and family on social media and they too gave me so much encouragement that I made the video public.
When watching the video, I also see that I am like the people who refuse to hear the message I am trying to convey—'You Are Amazing.' I have denied myself of the message of the song. But when I share it, my light shines even without the orchestra.
The recording is raw, minimal, and not perfect. But as one of my coaches recently told me, "Done is better than perfect." As the song says, I will learn from my mistakes. Faith is instrumental to orchestrate the change and live out the dream as if it's all been prearranged.
I won't be afraid.
Throughout the years, this song has been an anthem for me, and I've performed it live hundreds of times. I'm finally sharing it with you. It may not be the grand orchestration I've always envisioned, but it's the message I've always needed to hear for myself and to encourage you.
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Skip Sams is an award winning composer, Self-Development Coach, and Creative Catalyst, empowering individuals worldwide since 2014 to rediscover their passions and reinvent themselves. Skip specializes in guiding people with addiction histories, mental disorders, and those living with HIV to unlock their creativity and transcend labels. Certified by the International Coaching Federation, he resides in Chicago with his feline roommate, Spats.
I Won't Be Afraid
Music by Skip Sams
Words by Mary Anne Cowgill and Skip Sams Song Copyright 1995 Sams & Sellers
Videography by Pete 0'Hare Directed by Skip Sams
Filmed in Times Square on December 8, 2013. Video Copyright 2023 Skip Sams