A trip to Puerto Rico inspired Isaiah Murtaugh to write the song “San Juan,” but he said the serenade is not about the tropical getaway listeners might expect.
Instead, “San Juan” is about his battles with depression, tumultuous relationship with his Christian faith and finally finding peace with his emotions and spirituality during a trip to Puerto Rico three years ago.
Murtaugh will share the story of San Juan at Spring Sing by performing his song with his roommate Andre Arifin, a third-year geography and environmental studies student.
Murtaugh, a third-year international development studies student, said he and his friends decided to travel to San Juan on a whim after finding $300 round-trip tickets to Puerto Rico online. Having dealt with anxiety and sleep disorders throughout adolescence, Murtaugh said he finally felt at peace among the lagoons, old Spanish ports and rooftop lounges in San Juan.
“I’d been struggling with some serious identity and faith problems after my freshman year, but the five days we spent in San Juan were magic,” Murtaugh said.
Murtaugh transformed San Juan from a fond memory to music in October 2015 after texting one of his friends who had been on the trip with him. He said they were reminiscing about Puerto Rico and one of their texts became the first line of the song’s chorus: “Just say the word, and I’ll meet you in San Juan.”
The entire song makes subtle references to spirituality and overcoming inner turmoil using imagery of San Juan as a metaphor for a place of peace and discovery, Murtaugh said.
Murtaugh and Arifin decided to team up after an impromptu jam session in their apartment when Arifin improvised a percussion part to accompany the song.
Although Arifin did not go on the trip with Murtaugh, he said he still connects to the lyrics since he had dealt with similar emotional trials throughout college and shares a devout Christian faith.
Initially, Murtaugh said he planned to audition for this year’s Spring Sing as a soloist under the name “Tom Shay,” a pseudonym he made up to attribute fake philosophical quotes he posts on Twitter and Instagram. He started receiving more likes and comments on his posts when they were attributed to his made-up, famous individual, he said.
“Your words automatically have more value when it’s not you saying them,” Murtaugh said.
When Arifin joined as a percussionist for the song, the duo said they decided to keep the act under the same name.
“Our roommate joked that (Murtaugh) is Tom and I’m Shay,” Arifin said. “I love it – my Instagram username right now is actually ‘i.am.shay.’”
Spring Sing will be the first time Arifin and Murtaugh perform publicly as a duo. Murtaugh said he has never performed for an audience beyond a dozen or so friends. His challenge has been figuring out how to sing something meaningful in front of a large audience, and he hopes his performance will resonate at Spring Sing with its personal message.
“What I’ve been through is valuable for people to hear about – anxiety, depression, doubt and faith,” Murtaugh said.