Emotional as a child, Margaret Dungo would be writing poems and singing to vent her angst. The exercises in releasing feelings led her to discover her musical gifts.
At 20 years old, this ingenue had her debut concert on Oct. 25 at Seda Vertis, where she was launched as Tera, the last four letters of her name spelled backward.
Reaching her goal wasn’t easy. Along her journey, she survived two traumas—the breakup of her parents and a codependent relationship with a boyfriend who was into substance abuse. At 15, she topped the audition for the Disney Channel. However, her hopes of moving to Los Angeles and becoming a Disney talent were upended when a patron backed out from paying the airfare.
During her moments of depression, she turned to songwriting to help her face difficult situations.
Studies have shown that songwriting can positively affect the structure of the nervous system and the firing of the nerves in the brain. Writing the melody and lyrics activates the frontal lobes, which involve the general brain function and memory and the insular cortex, which makes sense out of painful experiences. While one is making music, the temporal lobes behind the ears sort out the audio information and program the memory.
At the same time, songwriting helps the individual to unearth traumatic memories and buried emotions which may not easily be recalled in conservative therapy. Some music therapists use music as intervention for different populations, ranging from pediatric to hospice care patients, and trauma victims.
Tera’s parents separated when she was 12. Although she is the third of four children, she became responsible for her siblings to help her mother. She guided them during their homework and made sure that her brothers behaved.
Fascinated with William Shakespeare, she taught herself to write lyrics by studying the English bard’s verses and their metrical patterns. She then modeled the verses after Shakespeare and used metaphors about her painful past and hope for the future while baring soul.
Over time, she collected notebooks of her songs, mostly in free verse. When she underwent therapy, she learned that the songwriting wasn’t just an emotional outlet. As a therapy, her songs enabled her to reveal her emotional scars and attitude towards certain individuals.
An original, “Higher Dosage,” allowed her to share her experience of being in a dysfunctional relationship. Dungo was 14 when she fell in love and thought she could save her boyfriend from his addictions. Feeling miserable, she expressed her views on how people become slaves to gambling, drugs and alcohol: “Voices, noises, whatever you view them/ The devil spawn that’s biting off your ear/ Voices, noises screwing up with your choices/ And that’s the reason why you need a higher dosage.” Another original, “Façade,” expressed her unresolved issues and took a swipe at people’s holier-than-though posturing: “You speak with tongues that slither/ In the listener’s brain/ You break the vibe and fill it with pain/ Control anyone who spits your name in vain/ It’s all a façade/ It always seems so perfect on the outside/ But it’s far from seamless.”
The lyrics of both songs are cleverly disguised representations of people in her life. Yet, acquaintances who heard her recordings could identify with the lyrics. With professional musical arrangement, Tera sounds as if she was channeling American songwriter-singer Billie Eilish or Andra Day.
Her therapist was impressed with Tera’s talents and encouraged her to continue. “She could see how relieved I was every time that I wrote. She also saw my joys and the passion,” says Tera.
The budding singer says keeping her songs over time made her more introspective. Her therapist advised her not to be harsh on herself, to love herself more.
On the brighter note, Tera says her parents have been supportive of singing. Her mother acts as her handler while her father pays for her music lessons, including vocal coaching. She is a talent under her father’s company, Merlions Productions.
Tera says songwriting ultimately gave her hope. “Songs showed me my end game, my goals. They pushed me to move forward no matter what.” —Contributed INQ