The Story of the MUSE Awards Song

by Colleen Cherry
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Freestyle Songwriting

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I’ve always loved using music as a means of spreading joy and connecting with my community.

Songwriting is something I’ve been working at for years – it never came naturally to me when I would sit down and try to write a song. I always had to have some big feeling like love or heartbreak motivating it, with songs seemingly coming out of nowhere while I was driving or cooking or after a night of far too much wine. Thank goodness for the voice memo app or many of those wine-drenched songs would have been lost forever.

A few years ago, I discovered the joy of musical improv – making songs up on the spot! While I’ve always created songs about my dog or musically narrated mundane activities like doing the dishes, this was different. Musical improv training taught me how to really delve into different song structures, and probably the most powerful lesson of all – that anything can be a song!

In musical improv classes and rehearsals, I was singing moving power ballads about cheese, blues songs from the perspective of an alligator, and rapping as a Disney princess. My musical improv team Definitely Not Murderers created full musicals out of audience suggestions and traveled to festivals around the country performing songs that had never existed before and would never exist again. It was a thrill to create music like that with other people or steal the spotlight for an improvised solo.

Definitely Not Murderers at the Atlanta Improv Festival

During 2020 I had to find a new means of expression when all the theatres shut down, gigs were postponed or canceled altogether, and my heart broke from isolation from my creative community.

I started singing and playing more to get the big feelings out – a sweet musical catharsis alone in my room, sometimes livestreamed on Facebook simply to reach out for that connection in a time of such isolation. But I got tired of wallowing in sad songs written by other people. I wanted to share some joy through music and make people smile through those collective hard times.

I work at SPCA Tampa Bay running the volunteer and women’s giving programs. In 2020, we had to pivot our 30+ year annual community celebration and fundraiser Pet Walk to a virtual platform with all of the fundraising happening online.

Since I had a lot of time on my hands, I offered to write songs about pets in exchange for donations. In one week, I raised $1400+ by writing 61 songs mostly about dogs (with a few cats, ducks and humans thrown in the mix).

I got a lot of media attention which was lovely and increased the reach of these songs. They made people really happy and I got requests from all over the community to write songs for their loved ones. It’s a special thing to hear people’s stories and turn them into a meaningful song. It felt good to share some good news in the midst of tragedy and crisis.
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Colleen shares a song about her own dog, Eleanor
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As someone who always struggled to write just one song it was incredibly freeing to write such a high volume of songs in a short amount of time. I used a lot of my musical improv skills to come up with them. It unlocked something in me as a songwriter. I didn’t need some dumb boy to make me feel loved or heartbroken to inspire a song. I could write about literally anything – certified bops about dogs! (Did I use that term right, Gen Z?)

I started writing songs based on interesting billboards or signs while road-tripping, improvising songs inspired by people’s stories around a campfire, jotting down phrases overheard while eavesdropping on a first date at a coffee shop – turning everything and anything into a song with my magical ukulele.

This all came in handy with my newly-formed original music project, an indie pop band called The Sugar Bats with my songwriting collaborator Branden Barnett.
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I was honored to be approached by St. Petersburg Arts Alliance to create an interactive musical improv song for their Murals in Mind project and to write a custom song to announce the recipients of their 2023 MUSE Awards. In the past, they’ve unveiled the winners by surprising them in public places and sharing it on social media. This year they wanted to add a musical element – a singing telegram if you will.

With Muse Literary Arts honoree Maggie Duffy and SPAA CEO Terry Marks

I set up a phone conversation with SPAA CEO Terry Marks to learn more about MUSE and brainstorm some ideas. It started with a rhyme – a shoutout to Terry’s wife Anastasia in the background of our phone call (while on a ladder!) dropping the base rhyme – “news” and Muse.” From there I had what I needed to build a delightful earworm.

I sat down with my ukulele and quickly came up with a jingle we could use for each of the recipients. It’s short and sweet with flexibility in the chorus to give a shout out to each individual. SPAA says “MUSE celebrates the diversity of all the arts and culture in St. Petersburg and pays tribute to the remarkable talent and variety that can be discovered around every corner of our amazing city” – I wanted the song to capture that.
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Have you heard the good news?
You’re a Muse
You’re a part of the heart
Of this city of the arts
Hey (insert name here!)
Have you heard the good news?
You’re a Muse!

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I shared my voice recording with Terry and she loved the first draft so that became the song! Over the course of a few weeks in January, we showed up in art galleries, coffeeshops and dance studios to surprise this year’s honored artists and arts supporters. Terry would arrange a meeting with them, then I’d appear with my ukulele to serenade them, announcing that they were a MUSE with Tracy Kennard their Director of Marketing capturing it on camera.
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The reactions ranged from shock, gratitude, happy tears and a spontaneous dance party! It was a truly wonderful experience to share some musical joy with the people who make this arts community so special.

I’m looking forward to celebrating the honorees and singing the song live
at the Muse party at the Morean Center for Clay on March 3!

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2023 MUSE Honorees

 Literary Arts – Maggie Duffy

Performing Arts – Alexander Jones and projectALCHEMY

Visual Arts – Catherine Woods

Art and Technology – Mikhail Mansion

Ambassador of the Arts – Katie Deits

Patron of the Arts – Belinda Dumont

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Colleen Cherry is a St. Pete based singer, actor, songwriter, and improviser. For more info or custom song orders you can email her at


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