I started my four-week residency at Calypso School, a local school on the Northside of town, and one I’ve played the last three or four years in a row. My People! Part of Doug Roysdon’s Children’s Festival of after-school arts programming, this is the second one I’ve done.

The key element is Calypso’s 100th birthday. I spent some time looking at old photos and new clips but couldn’t find anything to grip, so decided to see what develops. It’s a group of 15 kids, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders eager to spend some time with me writing songs. It’s a workout, indeed. Some kids are quiet, some physically active so it’s up to me to shape this community experience as we go along. That’s the really creative part.

I asked, “What makes Calypso special?” There was the usual – friends, fun and other non-descript terms. I, at least, had brought up the subject. I assigned homework. Bring back one thing that you love about the school for next week.

We have to come up with a centennial song, so, after doing some rhyming games and The Cat Came Back, we staked out some ground. It dawned on me that some common ground for these kids and 100 years of neighborhood kids at this site had some connection. I hit upon recess games and songs and I was fresh from my Playground CD experience that this was a natural way to go. A good idea to explore. I gave them homework to look up old playground stuff from the internet. We had a good chat about how to Google it, and that seemed to be a valuable lesson, right there. Surprised me!

I decided to do some practical songwriting with something they were familiar with, namely, The Cat Came Back. It’d be a good exercise in writing that we can do with the centennial project. I wanted the kids to project the cat’s calamity into their home. One kids suggested that the TV might knocked over. We took a vote and it won. We talked about when it might happen and Sunday football immediately came up. Bingo. Common experience. We’re off….

As usual, I come up with the first line: Sunday football, the cat watched TV. What to eat? Ice cream, bologna (spelling lesson) and catnip iced tea (again, a great image and commentary on beer). What teams would a cat root for? Jaguars, Lions, Panthers… What happened to make him scram? Great talk about current football celebrities.

Here it is:
Sunday football, the cat watched TV,
Ice cream, bologna and catnip iced tea,
He rooted for the Panthers and the Jaguars, too.
He saw Beckham’s Boogie and out the door he flew.

Great discussion, decision-making, singing, refining and all the good stuff that goes into the art. There was a sense of completion that was very cool.

With only a little time left, it was time to get up and move. I emptied the bag and we did Knock Knock. Again, I made sure everyone moved, so important. I assigned them to bring in a Knock Knock joke for next week.

I reviewed the homework at the end: Calypso love, old time recess game and a knock-knock. The time flew by and we really connected. I love my job.