Hi, I’m Betina Hershey. I think of myself as a creator, performer, and educator. I co-lead a couple of different bands: Hot Jazz Jumpers (1920s traditional jazz) and The Scooches, scooching together many musical genres and diverse musicians to play my original music. I have created a couple of online acting courses available on DIY.org. I write original musicals for kids at Garden Players in Queens, NYC, with five of them published at Beat by Beat Press and a few new ones coming to Garden Players Publishing soon.
You can find me dancing in the movies Mona Lisa Smile and Disney’s Enchanted. I have performed all over the world and was Meg in the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera. I used to be very unrooted, traveling from show to show, but I wanted to find a more rooted community for myself, teach others to develop their own creativity, and also have time to raise kids (I have twins who are 12 now).
You can find me writing songs almost daily, and I’ve been doing that since I was old enough to sing, so I have a large collection of songs in so many different genres.
Tell us about your new album, Lift You Up, and the inspiration behind it.
Lift You Up is a collection of songs about our relationship to the earth, to each other, and to what is possible if we listen to each other, believe in ourselves, and keep our sense of humor. The songs are inspired by my life, the lives of people I know, and by what I’ve been reading and discovering.
The title song to our album, “Lift You Up,” was inspired by a course developed by Yale professor Laurie Santos, titled ‘The Science of Wellbeing.’ I was blown away by the science behind giving. Giving to others increases our happiness for a much longer time than giving to ourselves. I hope my music lifts my audience up.
What was the songwriting and recording process?
I often sit down with my guitar and press record on my phone’s voice memo and then see what comes out. When I get really excited about a song, I write down the lyrics, play around with the structure, and notate the chords. Then I play the song for Nick Russo, my husband and co-band leader. He may have some suggestions for chord alterations, or he may love it just the way it is. He’s often the one who may suggest a specific feel to a tune. He added the reggae feel to “Lift You Up” and the R&B feel to “Leavin’.”
What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music?
I hope to inspire a sense of hope, connection, fun, and energy. Music can bring us on such a journey, and The Scooches is all about a journey through many genres, feelings, thoughts, and energies.
One of my favorite songs on the album, “Open A Door,” is a beautiful AABA song about dreams and believing in ourselves. I hope listeners understand that having doubts is natural, but we have to be willing to open doors, believe we are worthy, and to let our dreams happen.
“Spread Your Wings And Fly” is a more raucous version of a similar idea.
The song “Let’s Grow Our Roots Deep And True” is about the plight of refugees, but also about our need to be able to grow roots in our community, to belong, and to sway in the storm of life.
There are funny moments on the album, too. “I Broke The Egg” is a break-up song with a twist, and there is a playful, bouncy 1920s-flavored tune about letting go of the past, “What’s Meant To Last Will Last.”
I hope to bring my listeners to a place of gleeful change, inspired to write a song, make a difference, and improve the world.
When did you first pick up guitar, and what drew you to that instrument?
I must admit, I picked the guitar up when I was performing in a show, and one of my cast members had a 12-string guitar. He taught me a few chords, and I loved how easy it was to sound so full. I had played piano as a kid since my Mom was a piano player, and I always loved playing out of songbooks, but the guitar felt even easier to play around on, creating new sounds, chords, and songs. I learned three chords, wrote my first song on my guitar, and never looked back.
I got my own guitar and brought it everywhere, writing songs all the time, recording them as I went. Years later, touring as Meg in the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera, I bought the Martin guitar I’ve been playing and used it to record songs in my dressing room in between scenes.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, and Tammy Wynette. I love Alison Krauss, Norah Jones. I love classical music, especially Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” American Standards, with their AABA song structure, really touch me. I love listening to jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass. I’m also deeply influenced by musical theater composers such as Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, and so many more.
I am still in the thick of this album, looking forward to playing these songs at upcoming shows and festivals, creating more official videos for these songs, and seeing where the journey of this album takes me.
Even so, I am always writing. I’m eager to spend more time with my songs in progress, explore new ideas, and start on the next album. I love sitting down to record a song snippet every single day and seeing which ones may develop into full songs, so I hope to make time for that again.
I also write the lyrics and book for an original musical every year for kids to perform, so I will be thinking up plot and song ideas for my next musical. I’m also in the middle of creating an album for my newest musical, ‘Switch It Off,’ which I expect to have up on my Garden Players Publishing site when it’s ready.
On top of all that, I have just signed with TRO Essex Music Group to help me get my music out to the world of sync, film, and TV.
Connect with Betina Hershey