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Songwriting with Brooklyn 5th Graders

A few months ago, Gwynne Watkins and I were asked if we would do a songwriting workshop for a group of 5th graders at a public school in Brooklyn. Gwynne is an extremely talented writer, playwright, and lyricist.  She also happens to be my very good friend and collaborator.  We wrote Tea with Chachaji together. This school wanted to expose their students to different types of jobs in the arts, so they asked if we’d come in and talk about writing musical theatre.  So yesterday morning, that’s what we did. In a 50-minute session, we managed to 1) Show pictures and perform a song from Tea with Chachaji 2) Analyze “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and explore AABA song structure 3) Write an original song with the kids inspired by the picture to the right. One of my favorite things to do is to write original songs with kids.  I’ve found the best way to do this with a limited amount of time is to start with a vivid image.  We randomly found the photo above online the night before. From this photo, the kids created the following character:
Dillon Zinger is a 13-year old who lives in Sydney Australia.  It’s July 17, 1977.  He just moved into a new neighborhood and is having a tough time fitting in.  The kids all make fun of him because they think he’s a smarty-pants, and they make fun of his height.  In an effort to get the kids to like him he tries to learn how to ride a bike.  However he’s having a very difficult time.  On this particular afternoon, he’s just fallen off, sits under and tree and begins thinking about his situation….and…SONG!
We then proceeded to write a short AABA song about being lonely and unable to fit in. One of my favorite things about writing songs with kids is seeing their sense of accomplishment at the end.  The look of “I just wrote a song!”  Hopefully it’s something that sticks with them well into the future.

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