Composing and Healing: a Profile on Isabel Goodwin
Written by Jaden Dugger
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.
Music notes drift across her computer screen. The sound of a colorful flute movement plays. Composer Isabel Goodwin calls the passage “Clementine.” A smile spreads across her face and the music takes her away. A mandarin orange questions its reality. It is moments like these that Goodwin chases.
“It’s a piece where there are seven movements, they each are a different color of the rainbow, and it’s not just like, here’s red, here’s orange,” Goodwin explained.
“It’s like, okay, orange reminds me of mandarin oranges. So I’m going to write one about a mandarin orange questioning its reality, or yellow is fool’s gold, or green is seaglass.”
Goodwin, a junior at CU Boulder who uses she/they pronouns, started out as a bassoon performer. Soon after, they fell in love with composing. However, the COVID-19 pandemic turned her emotional world upside down.
In the midst of uncertainty and loneliness, she developed an eating disorder. It threatened her ability to do what she loved most, and therefore, her livelihood. Goodwin is not alone in this struggle.
According to Kendra Maruyama, a national board-certified health and wellness coach who works with eating disorder recovery, “For some, eating disorders originate where food (and/or body) and difficult emotions intersect. Eating disorder behaviors, in some ways, serve to regulate these difficult emotions.”
Before their eating disorder, Goodwin was on a path to becoming an incredible bassoon performer and composer. This journey began when they were in the eighth grade.
The Austin Symphony Orchestra did an annual competition where young composers could submit their pieces. The winner would have the honor of their piece being performed by the orchestra. It was Goodwin’s first introduction to composing.
“One of my very first original compositions was for a full orchestra, which is not what people normally start with,” Goodwin said.
When they were 14, Goodwin won this competition. They said it was a “transforming experience.”
When it came time for college applications, Goodwin knew exactly what she wanted to do: composition at CU Boulder. The prospect of writing and composing all the time was exciting to them. They were committed to becoming the best composer and performer that they could be.
Goodwin did just that. She wrote the piece that she is most proud of during her freshman year of college. It is called “Pedro and Indigo” and it is written for piano-four-hands, two people sitting at a piano and playing together.
“That was really the first time that I realized that writing a piece about people that I love is the most inspiring thing,” Goodwin said.
Since they wrote this piece right before COVID, listening to it also gives Goodwin a huge sense of nostalgia.
“This is what it all felt like before the world fell apart,” they said.
But then, the world did fall apart. Before the pandemic hit, Goodwin stayed incredibly busy with composing, taking classes, and making solid friendships. She had little time to focus on and take care of herself. One way this manifested for them was ignoring hunger cues.
Goodwin said that at first, her eating habits were not intentional or disordered in her mind. It was merely the result of her busy lifestyle. But when COVID hit, this habit of ignoring hunger cues turned into a coping mechanism.
It is an unfortunate fact that eating disorders are very prevalent, especially in college-aged females.
According to Wardenburg Eating Disorder Treatment Coordinator, Michael Maley, “People get to schools and feel they can’t fit in. Eating disorders have grown. Nationally, 2% of women have eating disorders, and at CU it’s two to three percent higher than the national average,” (CU Independent, 2014).
Anyone who has experienced an eating disorder knows that it is impossible to give full energy to anything else while in the midst of it. Goodwin’s music took a hit. They no longer had the motivation or capacity to compose.
Without the ability to do what she loved most, Goodwin’s illness quickly spiraled and she began to feel bad about herself. Goodwin experienced distress over her identity. Without music, she did not feel like herself and could not recognize her value.
Then, their eating disorder began to fill this void. Like composing, it became an integral part of their identity.
They wondered, “Who am I if I’m not a musician? Who am I if I’m not composing at this moment? What am I without music or without any eating disorder? I’m nothing.”
Luckily, Goodwin had an attentive therapist and dietitian who were able to get her help. She went to an inpatient recovery center for two months. After being discharged, an odd coincidence turned into a turning point for Goodwin.
She was an RA at the time she went through her recovery program. On the day she was released from treatment, a resident of Goodwin’s needed a bunny sitter.
Bunny sitting was a therapeutic and rejuvenating experience for Goodwin. They immediately decided that they needed one of their own. Now, Goodwin has two bunnies.
“Bunnies are great for peer pressure, because I have to feed them twice a day. I have to go to the fridge, get them their lettuce, refill their hay,” Goodwin said, “so it’s great peer pressure, to be like, well I’m already at the fridge, so I guess I should, you know, eat.”
Goodwin, now a year out of treatment, is back to writing and performing. She feels excited about her compositions again.
“So I would just really want to reiterate, for people out there, that recovery is worth it. And getting better is always worth it. You can always get better and getting better will always make your life better. Even though it’s the harder choice.”
Article written by Jaedyn Dugger. Published March 30, 2022.