Young blonde woman playing the guitar and singing

Singer-songwriter turned mentor, Hannah Smedley, is helping others through the NDIS-registered program Lift Up Voices.

A current COVID-19 lockdown in Adelaide means Hannah Smedley, is taking a break from shooting the underwater music video that will accompany her newly released single, Plastic Jewellery.

Hannah says the filming has been tricky as she’s lip syncing underwater, while trying hard not to show how cold she is.

In December 2019, before coronavirus disrupted the world, Hannah was chosen to perform at the Civic Park Carols in South Australia, Modbury, in front of an audience of 45,000 people, along with Guy Sebastian and other guest artists.

The 19-year-old was also nominated for an Adelaide Youth Award that celebrates the achievement of young people who inspire and contribute to their community.

Hannah who lives with autism (also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder - ASD) says music is her “safe haven”.

“It’s the first thing I turn to because it helps me mentally. Sometimes in life things are difficult and I use that to write songs and express how I feel.

“Music is my therapist and my go-to. I enjoy bringing that to other people as well.”

Musical healing

Through the NDIS, Hannah has been able to attend and work for the NDIS-registered group, Lift Up Voices, which offers music and creative arts through programs designed to help develop skills, social connection and confidence.

Hannah’s mentor at Lift Up Voices helped her record Plastic Jewellery, and she is now working herself as a vocal coach with other young people a few days a week.

“I’m so honoured just to have the opportunity to mentor. It’s an absolute blessing.

“It’s spreading the love and helping each other and educating the youth to be kind to each other, no matter what.”

Hannah’s mentor also helps her navigate the technology necessary for her live performances, as well as set up for her gigs and use social media.

One of Hannah’s NDIS goals is to take part in a group or community network and, through her NDIS plan, she is also able to access sessions with a psychologist which would complement her musical journey.

Being a part of Lift Up Voices, Hannah says, has contributed to a healthy mindset.

She says that to maintain her positive mental health, it’s important not to feel isolated, and “it feels good” to sing about her emotions and experiences.

Good vibrations

Next, Hannah is keen to release an album which would be a “story line” of her life.

“I’ve noticed that when I sing songs that relate to me, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

“Whether you’re on the spectrum or not, I can see that other people go through the same things.”

Hannah says it’s important to “stop and think about what we’re doing in our lives” and check-in with each other.

“I like to write songs to tell people that being kind to each other is the most important thing.

"I don’t want to be known as the girl with autism who can sing. It’s more, ‘I’m Hannah and I’m here to mentor and inspire … whether you’re on the spectrum or not.’”

Young blonde woman sitting on stool, playing the guitar, and singing

Meaning behind the words

Hannah wrote Plastic Jewellery when she was 16 – a time in her life when she felt “isolated, misunderstood, mistreated and not fitting in to social groups that gave me really bad anxiety”.

“Plastic jewellery is not considered as precious as real jewellery and it was my way of saying that we are all precious no matter what our differences. When people judge you or label you for whatever reason, they can make you feel less than the real thing.

“I tried so hard when I was at school to be someone that I wasn’t. It took me a long time to realise that it was okay to be just me.”

During the songwriting process, Hannah realised she was no longer going to say sorry “for being me and trying to please and impress others”.

“Sometimes people would only see me as autistic or have a disability. I later realised that having autism is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a gift that I am very proud to have.”

Emotional connections

Hannah’s mum, Sharon, says one of the biggest challenges for Hannah was developing the courage to sing in front of a crowd.

When performing in front of an audience, Sharon says Hannah has the ability to connect in such a way that people feel moved and it isn’t uncommon to see an audience member “mesmerised or have a tear in their eye”.

“At the year 12 talent show, in front of all her peers, she sung ‘Never Enough’. Not only did she win the contest but she also got a standing ovation.

“It’s the way she sings and connects emotionally – it gives you goosebumps. To perform and connect like that is very unique.”

Sharon, who plays the cello, says music has allowed a special connection between herself and Hannah, who has also taught herself to play the guitar and ukulele. 

She says Hannah thrives in her connections with others, and her confidence has grown through her participation at Lift Up Voices.

“She has a really good understanding of people with disabilities – she gets it when they’re stressed or anxious.

“She’s a very effervescent person. She is fun and has no judgement. She’s got a gift and there’s a real trust there. People feel safe with her.”

Listen to the very talented Hannah Smedley singing Plastic Jewellery on YouTube now.



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