Friday, March 11, 2011

March is Music In Schools Month! And Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers--Happy Poetry Friday!  And thank you, Liz Garton Scanlon, for hosting Poetry Friday this week!   
Did you know that March is Music in the Schools Month? Well, it is!  In fact, today's TeachingAuthors poem is actually a song written by our guest singer/songwriter who brings music to schools all over the country.  x in the schools...I remember Mrs. Priday, an older, potato-shaped woman with orange-ish hair, who played piano and joyfully taught us to sing at Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, CA.  And Richard Wagner, the Leonard Bernstein of Santa Monica schools, who lit a fire inside us when he turned on the William Tell Overture and let us put our heads down on our desks to listen.

And Sherman Plepler gave me private violin lessons once a week (during the school day!) in the musty basement of Franklin School.

Ahhh...the golden age of music in the schools.  But, hark! You can still find fabulous teachers using music in these days of school budget guillotines.

If you're lucky enough to be a fifth grader in my friend Allison Ho's classroom in Gardena, CA, you'll learn about heritage and different cultures through Broadway musicals. Allison opens her students' eyes to the world of arranged marriages ("Tradition" from Fiddler On The Roof and "You Are Beautiful" from Flower Drum Song), two cultures ("Farmer and the Cowman" from Oklahoma and "America" from Westside Story) and much, much  more--teaching them the songs and the dances, too.  Wouldn't you love to be in Allison's class?

And my buddy, folksinger/songwriter Bob Reid, teaches kids how to write their own songs.  So I've invited Bob in to talk about how he writes and teaches.
This is Bob Reid

There's a Light In You (click to must hear these kids singing it...)
words & music © Bob Reid 1995

There's a light in me, there's a light in you
Whatever language you speak
Whatever your point of view
Whatever people may say
Whatever people may do
There's a light in you
You must let your light shine through.

I am short, he is tall
It doesn't matter if I'm small
Whatever size I happen to be
There's a light in me
Please take the time to see.


My eyes are brown, hers are blue
We may not share the same point of view
Whatever our hopes, our wishes, and dreams
There's a light that beams
We're closer than it seems.


My friend Sam says she doesn't fit
When she wants to play the others want to sit
Times are hard, I must admit
I hope she doesn't quit
She's got to keep it lit.


When the world is looking grim
It can happen to her, it can happen to him
That's when you need that light to glow
Come on and let it show
It's brighter than you know.


When the sun has left the sky
Bringing darkness to the eye
Night reveals what can't be seen in the day
A glorious display
Behold, the Milky Way.

Chorus (2x)
AHW: What inspired you to write this song?

BR:  "There's A Light In You" was written in response to the flurry of songs I was hearing about people identifying by the color of their skin, giving attributes to people due to the color of their skin, black, yellow, red, or even songs that challenged that practice. They seemed to be framing the issue in a way that I felt was unhelpful and didn't seem to offer an alternative. I wanted to find a commonality, something that we all had, to bring us together.

The song is reminiscent for me of a song I sang as a child at Unitarian gatherings, "This Little Liberal Light of Mine" a variation of "This Little Light of Mine". There was a verse that said, "Don''t you try to poof it out!" "I'm gonna let it shine". The idea that there was this thing in us that we have to actively defend and tend and an awareness that the world may sometimes be inhospitable to our light, but it is our work to let it shine despite that.

AHW: What's your writing process?

BR: I wrote the song over several years. The chorus came first and then I worried that I would never find verses that could live up to the chorus. I sang it with fill in verses and added more and more, until my friend, Bill Harley, told me, "Bob, it's done!"

Bill, and my friend David Grover, both made recordings of it before I did. David sang it on the "Today Show" and at the White House Easter Event. We performed it at United Nations Headquarters with the United Nations International School Choir and Pete Seeger in a half hour concert we did for the kick-off of the International Year of Freshwater in 2003.
WATER   ...    photo by April Halprin Wayland (c) 2011
AHW:  Wow--pretty cool!  Do you have a favorite music-in-the-schools story?

BR: My favorite story is the group some 25 years ago with which I wrote the song, "Water." They were quite proud of that song. It was made into a clay animated film by Kristine Albrecht, an artist in Santa Cruz, CA, which won awards at film festivals around the country. In 2003, it was this song that was of interest to the United Nations, when Pete Seeger recommended it as the theme of their "International Year of Freshwater". I traveled to New York several times to perform it a several UN functions, such as "World Environment Day".
You can listen to it here.

Writing Workout: picking a topic ~ asking the right questions

AHW: How do you begin writing songs with students? I'm sure it's complex, so this really isn't a fair question... but can you point the way to help a teacher or parent help students write a song?

BR: I usually write in two sessions, one to come up with a topic in response to the question, "If a song can focus your attention on something for 3 or 4 minutes, what do you think is important enough to focus attention upon?"  I've usually sung them songs written with other groups to give them some idea of what can be done. Then I'll ask, "What will I play for someone when they ask what this class thought was important?"

Thanks for your time and inspiration
and thanks for stopping by, Bob!

Okay,'s time for you to write your own song.  So ask yourself Bob's questions, take a good deep breath, and write with joy ~ 

Out & About!  
Three TeachingAuthors: (Esther Hershenhorn, Mary Ann Rodman and I) will join two fabulous professors (Roxanne Owens and Marie Donovan from DePaul University) at the Illinois Reading Council's Annual Conference in Springfield, IL on Thursday, March 17th.  We'll be teaching a workshop (two times!) titled: Helping You (and Your Students!) Connect to the Writer Within.  In addition, I'll be participating in IRC's Poetry Coffeehouse on Friday, March 18th.  Woo-woo!  We think it's going to be a hot time in the old town and hope you can join us!


Carmela Martino said...

What a wonderful interview, April. I'm intrigued to read about Bob's writing process. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

TinyReader said...

This is such a great post. Thank you so much! I got inspired to write a little bit about the music in our home! Happy Music in Our Schools Month!