All entries filed under Afterschool Programs

I was disappointed in today’s attendance, with only three students showing up. I was hoping to finish up our song with some energy. Hard to do with only a handful of kids, two of which were the shyest and one who couldn’t speak English. Phew!

We warmed up with some rhythm exercises, trying to create patterns and sharing them with each other. Good work.

We turned to finishing up the song with the final lines of the second and third verses. It was like pulling teeth. We came up with the lines:

Windmills catch the wind and make electricity / blades go round and round, circular mobility. (??!!)

The tides go in and out; we can store that energy / the moon moves the currents across the bubbly sea.

I don’t think the kids knew about the moon and the tides.

I’ve signed up to present the song in an assembly. I was hoping for it to be next week on the 14th, but it’s been moved to Thursday, 21st. I’ll do the morning one, but I have an assembly near Philly in the afternoon.

I don’t know if I’ll have enough kids that actually have rehearsed song, the melody has been in flux as well. I’m not sure if it’s ready for the public, but that’s an important part of the process. Hmmm.


It was a good session today for round three at Donegan. I was prepared by pre-writing some material for today. I had no luck trying to start from scratch on the song, but was able to gather some ideas and basic words to work from: hurricane, draught, solar and wind energy, etc. So, I was able to craft three couplets and  quatrains to work from and it worked well for what we have to do to perform something in two weeks.

I used the scarves for a warm-up: movement, emotions, accessories (a new one) and a brief Jelly in the Dish.  I then brought out copies of my lyrics and we dived in, line by line, in trimming out the extra words, while giving me an opportunity to work on the melody and chords. As it turned out, by getting the kids to work on individual lines in repetition, they started to sing them out loud. All to the good.

The couplets were based on the negative effects of climate change, each starting with “Turn on the news”, “Turn on the weather”, “Turn on the radio.”

The quatrains (and chorus) reflected what can be done: solar, wind and tidal. I left off the final line in each of the three verses and we worked hard on writing the last line. We got the first done and will work on the other two next week. They will be prepared for the process and I feel we can wrap it up in time for our show.

Title: to be determined…

Turn on the news, see forests ablaze.                                  Em / D

Smoky Lehigh Valley skies for days and days.                   Em / D  C


Let’s make a change – start with you and me.                   G  /  C

We can make a change in our community.                        D  / G

Solar power can be stored in a battery.                              G  /  C

And that’s what really matters to me.                                 D  /  G        B7


  1. Turn on the weather, see a hurricane.                     Em  /  D

Our weather is wild, things don’t seem the same.           Em  /  D  C


Let’s make a change – start with you and me..                  G  /  C

We can make a change in our community.                        D  /  G

Windmills catch the wind and makes electricity.              G  /  C

….       tba


  1. Turn on the radio and we hear that things are really dry. Em /  D

There’s a heat wave going, feels like a hundred five.                     Em  /  D  C


Let’s make a change – start with you and me.                            G  /  C

We can make a change in our community.                                 D /  G

The tides go in and out, and we can store that energy.            G  /  C

….     tba

I envision using the scarves after we sing the song. Have the kids run out into the audience with the scarves while I play the refrain on stage, and then, when they return, we’ll do a ‘super-star’ at the end. I think this will be pretty cool.

I learned that the kids don’t have to do all the work and that they’ll pick enough from the modifying, singing, rehearsing and the limited writing to get something valuable from the process. That’s my lesson.

Thursday was the wrap up assembly for my Big Plans residency at Wm Penn ES. I got there early to work the core group on our songs and was reminded of the lack of focus these kids have, and how that’s not a big problem – they are kids. It was fun to see them relish performing on this stage in the middle of the school (open air format), and they took turns rolling around on the carpeted stage. I felt pretty good that they would handle the songs well.

The space filled up with K – 5th grades with the teachers along the sides in folding chairs. I’ve played here many times and I like the space and its unique layout. Full house!

I started with I Like Peanut Butter, the Tutti Tah and we were rolling! Even the older kids were engaged. I followed with The Cat Came Back which I prefaced with my pandemic discussions about the song having racist origins, something I promised my Black teaching artists that I would do. I have done the song at this school for years and it was requested by some of the tenured teachers who remembered it. It worked well, with the kids picking up on the chorus, getting the teachers to sing it and getting the kids to respond to the teachers chorus. This works great!

I Can Be – final assembly: Kayden, Karla, Skylar, Zahari, Jacen, Amerveer and Xavier.

I brought up the core group (who were sitting on the side of the stage) to do our Down By the Bay verses and it worked pretty well, in spite of being fairly vanilla in the writing. Still, they took well to the spotlight. I followed with Giants with two of the core group kids playing thunder tubes. It was then time to premier the Big Plans song I Can Be. Aaron, my liaison at the school, projected the words on the screen behind me so that it would be easier for the audience to sing along. It worked well, and the core group did fine, with all the clever nuances and movements that bring some charm to the song. I’ve used this chorus at Fountain Hill, linked with a Bruce Cockburn lick on the guitar. (I was glad to have that chorus and lick in my repertoire, considering the shorter residency). It came off well, short and sweet.

I finished with All Around the Kitchen which never fails to get every one up and dancing. I introduced the water sprinkler, the car dealership (forgot the name…) and then brought up kids to demonstrate their own moves. It always works to see the kids come up with moves and names. Then, I always ask a teacher to come up, with several of her fellow teachers (she gets to pick ’em). This particular teacher had already expressed that she wanted to come up, so she was ready. She did The Gritty and her friends did The Charleston, Around the World, showing some quick thinking and ingenuity. The place rocked. A great way to bring everyone together at the end.

I packed up my gear and headed off. The shy East Indian boy waved to me as I drove off among all the parents picking up their kids, and it was a nice payoff for the work I had done, on the micro and macro levels. Now, I await the check from Doug. I’m not even sure what I’m getting paid.

Second visit and time to get down to work on our Big Plans song.

I refreshed our version of Down By The Bay, and the kids had some good recall of the words, motions and reactions, but, as we went through the song, I realized how scattered these kids are. (pandemic?) A mix of too quiet, too bouncy, too unfocused, while still doing some good work. So it goes with a after-school program, I guess.

Since we have to come up with some verses on several jobs suggested last week, we picked up on truck driver, teacher and actor. Again, what once was a fairly productive process, the focus and verbal responses were all over the place. This puts it in my hands to come up with more of the content and rhymes. The kids get caught up in the rhymes and less on creating sentences and story arc. This was a tough session, and not as much play as last week.

  1. A cup of coffee and I head for my semi-truck.

Fill up with soccer balls at the warehouse, just to make a buck

I could do this forever cause I’m a lifer,

I think that I’ll be a truck driver.


  1. I have a classroom at Wm Penn with girls and boys,

Math Spanish, Reading, ; there’s so much noise.

Summertime you’ll see me down the shore; I’m a beacher.

I think that I’ll be a teacher (Sit Down!)


  1. At our talent show, I’m going to do my act.

A very dramatic scene, and that’s a fact.

When I grow up, I’ll read the script on the page,

I’ll think that I’ll be an actor on the stage. (Take a bow)

After our sweat shop session, I loosened things up with my scarf routine, and it was a great way to finish out the day. I’m glad we’re in the central library area, carpeted and nice open space. And, we are the people left in the building.

We covered our faces with the scarves and then came up with facial emotions. We then explore “writing” with the scarves, letters, names, etc. It’s a great swirl of colors. I then do Jelly in the Dish, with the kids launching their scarves at the end of the verse, and then trade scarves with each other. Controlled chaos with a visual payoff that is quite psychedelic, frankly.

I was pretty spent after today’s session. One more session next week and then an assembly. We’ll never be ready for the assembly and I’ll have to carry the load, but I can do that.


Wm. Penn ES

Big Plans – day one. We gathered after school in the library with six kids, a small but mighty group of four boys and two girls. We did I Like Peanut Butter to loosen up. And then we worked on Down By The Bay to work on some rhyming and creative thinking skills. The kids caught on and we added some interesting layers to the verses with sound effects and motions.


Did you ever see a fox chewing stinky sox (P. U.!) Down by the bay (And then….)

Did you ever see a horse slamming the doors (4 count – clap)  (And then…)

Did you ever see a panda peeling bamboo in Atlanta (peeling with teeth) (and then…)

Did you ever see an owl doing the macarena with a fowl (one girl leads the macarena). Yeah!

Nice session with great engagement. We’ll be able to do this one at the assembly in a few weeks.

Big Plans is the topic to get kids to think about what they want to be when they grow up, and be able to ask questions of adults on what they do. I handed out my Playground CD in order to inform them as to what I do. It’s a shame that only one kid has a CD player at home. I spent some time looking at the cover and hoping they would ask some questions. I gave them ‘homework’ for them to come back with questions for me. Good luck.

I asked the kids for ideas as to what they want to be and we came up with: a truck driver, teacher, famous singer, fire fighter and soldier. One loquacious boy offered that his dad drives truck so he was able to come up with some good material (soccer balls to a NJ stadium), sleeper cabs, coffee, waffle house, and more. A good start for next week.

We did the Tutti Tah, Super Star and broke open the bag of instruments, got up and danced, explored the space and finished with reflection on what we did during the session: danced, spilt water, CD, Down by the Bay, I Like Peanut Butter, jobs, and had fun. They did a good job on recollecting and I asked them to share some of what we did when they got home.

It was a very good opening session and the kids were engaged, and I picked up clues as the various learning styles of the kids. (One girl was very soft-spoken but a great dancer…) Another is a particularly young boy, but eager to play along.

A section of the outside wall had collapsed on Monday. The school moved some classes into other parts of the building. Sheesh.


Bill Christine and students discussing art work.

Bill Christine, Katie Santoro and I came down to the final day to wrap up our Climate Change residency at Marvine. We had to document the project for Doug Roysdon in order to give him the ability to market this process for prospective funding, so we had an hour and a quarter to finish it up.

Painting the cardboard costumes

Doug was able to arrange to have Al Silvestre to bring his camera for stills and video, something I was particularly glad for, since I was prepared to take videos with my own equipment, while trying to interact with the students. Whew!

We decided to break the studio sessions into three pieces. The first manageable slot was to record the kids doing the Who Dat choruses for the four verses. One older girl proved to be a problem, saying that she didn’t want to be in no video. I had to prod her several times, often doing my mean ole grump to convince her to look like she was smiling. (I eventually apologized to her and she eventually relaxed).

Chorus: Who dat?  Who dat? Who dat, you say.

We’re the Brezz Family, here to save the day. 2x

I’m a Wild Fire in the forest, better get out of my way. 2x

I’m Old Man Pollution, making your blues skies grey. 2x

I’m Carbon Dioxide, changing our climate every single day. 2x

We rehearsed and did several takes and managed to get some good footage, but it was an introduction to production for these kids and it took a lot of focus and energy to get through this.

Next up was recording the verses with the kids in the cardboard “costumes”. With the help of Doug and Bill, we were able to put together the kids moving behind the cut outs, adding construction paper props, working on “faces” of the characters, etc. We decided to skip the kids singing and went with my guitar as the sound track, to add the lyrics later. This turned out to be a very successful and rich session.

Working on the lyrics for the song.

With only about fifteen minutes left, I turned to working with a fifth grade boy as the narrator, and have him be the vocal actor doing the verses. We did them out loud and then had him do them solo. That worked really well, and, though the verses were new to him, he was able to pick up on the inflections and delivered nicely, to the delight of everyone listening. He really stepped up. We’ll be able to sync his narration with the guitar sound track from the earlier video. We might be able to pull this off.

I hope that Al does a good job editing his version of the song (we still have to find funding for him) and I plan on working on my version of Who Dat? for my own purposes (and the fun of home productions). Doug hopes to put together a short video of the project in order to find more work for us all.


We decided to move to the Art Room for the next couple of sessions so that Bill can lead the way in slinging the paint to move things along. As could be expected, the attendance has shrunk to three or four students, but these kids are charged.

Two weeks ago we used cardboard frames with head cutouts for our three concepts. We worked on the Brezz Family during the first session, selecting colors, transferring characters. We also worked on vocabulary for Wild Fire, and I’ll put something together for the next session.

  1. We live on top of a hill, soaking up the breeze.

Our blades spinning in the air with the greatest of ease.

Taking that wind, put it in a battery.

Turning that wind power into cheap energy.

Chorus: Who dat (Who dat?) Who dat, you say?

We’re the Brezz Family, here to save the day. (2x)

The second session started on Wild Fire and Pollution cardboard characters. I was about 20 minutes late for this one (finishing up with Amy Forsythe’s Lehigh class), and Bill was in production mode with painting Brezz and Wild Fire. I settled in and ran the chords for the song to get it in my head and then joined in with painting the Pollution smoke stack. The kids were listening to some current pop tunes on the computer and goofing about. Bill was cracking the whip, in his friendly way.

With about 15 minutes left, we cleaned up and I introduced the Wild Fire verse. My young friend broke out his trumpet and we worked on a place for him on the Who Dat. The kids are getting into the chorus, the attitude of some of the words, and one older boy, who seems to have a flair for oratory, tried out the verses as an orator. This might be cool.

2. Like a dragon flying through the trees,

I’m a wild fire on the wind with flames in my teeth.

Yellow, Red and Orange in a wild salsa dance,

Leaping through the air from branch to branch.   Chorus...

We’ve got one session left in two weeks, and, gradually, we’re getting there. We talked about why there was such a attrition with the kids, and, we figured that we should have presented a fuller picture of what we were going to do. Part of this process is to develop a template, and, now, we can present a better idea, with photos, song, etc. for the kids and the school. We’re all learning on this one.




My task was to warm the kids up, and had fun with Tutti Tah, even though the oldest 5th grade girl, new to the class, wondered what was going on. Anyway, the kids were great.

We hoped to revisit our vocabulary list, which Bill did, but, as we figured out later, perhaps, because of lack of information and the reticence of answering questions in class, we didn’t get much out of the kids.

Windy Brezz

I did an exercise with rhythm instruments after dividing the class in two. Amazing that some of the kids had a problem with counting off in twos. (occasional “three”). What worked – we were able to break up the little click of 5th grade girls and spread the kids out. After getting each side to play a beat, and, importantly, our “big endings” (so much fun…), I had each side take one part of each line, with Bill leading the other side.

I’m made of carbon / So are you.

Carbon is in the air / It’s CO2.

Makes a monster hurricane / makes a monster drought.

Makes a monster wild fire / That’s what I thought.

I added: Who dat? Who dat? / Who dat? Who dat? I’m going to follow up with this later.

Mini Brezz

We pulled out wild fire, pollution, hurricane and drought and voted for wild fire and pollution. Since one young girl had already worked up the Wind Power Family, we went with that. Bill then divided up the groups into Wild Power, Wild Fire and Pollution, and introduced the idea of how that group could make costumes for themselves, and gave the kids paper and markers to ideate what that would look like.

As the session came to a close, we shared the pictures with the larger group. Time’s up.

Aliey Brezz

As Katie, Bill and I put our heads together, we figured that the kids should start painting a small model of their project, water-color on cardboard, next week, in preparation for creating a full size, production model. I still have to figure out how to get verses for the three WP, WF and P models. We figured I could frontload the three verses with the first two lines and have the kids finish them.

One boy really relished “scientist”, so we figured that he could read the lyrics as a mad scientist while I play the chords, incorporating the “who dat? into the song. We only have three more sessions so the pressure’s on.

This is hard work.

It was a dark and stormy Thursday afternoon, a perfect time to start our Climate Change residency at Marvine with my pal, Bill Christine and Katie Santoro, our teacher/liaison. A good group of about ten 4th and 5th graders (yes, there is a difference) and they seem to be ready to be engaged.

Climate Change. 

I started out with my scarves and the list of potential Climate Change (CC) characters on the board. I got the kids up and dancing, having them interpret the various items like pollution, smog, etc. It was a very good way to start out the session. The kids were moving, dancing, creating before they had a chance to think about it. We then went through the list and voted to start with Wind Power. We then made a vocabulary list on Wind Power on the board.

Bill then led with his graphic exercises by having the kids make four doodles on a page, swapping them with another student, then creating characters from those doodles, and having the character make a statement. Again, Bill creates a creative moment that breaks the inhibition of making self-conscious choices and puts them in the moment, and gets the kids to interact with each other. Wise….

While Bill was working with the kids, I had a chance to write a verse from the vocabulary list, try out some chords (also giving a sound track for the kids as they drew), and start to formulate some musical ideas in my head. I put the verse up on the board.

We gathered again on the floor and shared our favorite pictures/statements. I then tried out my verse with the kids, just to put some air in the song as time grew short. As per usual, I asked the kids (later, Bill and Katie) what they enjoyed doing, trying to crystalize some of what we were doing, and hopefully making it better to communicate with their parents later on.

Now we tackled what our WP creature would look like, and the discussion was lively and engaged as Bill did his stuff on the board. We needed a tall post, wild blowing hair, and an interesting, smiling face (Bill invited one of the kids to draw it on the board). We had to name this creature. I came up with Gusty Breeze, which morphed into Gus T. Breeze. I asked someone to print this on the board under Bill’s caricature and she wrote Gus T. Brezz, which, as it turns out, is even more cartoonlike. A keeper.

Several nice reactions as we dispersed at 5 pm. The smallest girl in the class was knocking off several versions of our Brezz character. Another girl said that she wished she could do this every day. And even one of the 5th grade subdued girls cracked a smile as we fist-bumped on the way out.

It’s a new thing for me to collaborate with another artist, and Bill and I pulled it off with style. We both can lead, support and get out of the way when necessary. Katie helped tremendously by taking part, documenting the lyrics and taking photos. She is a vital part of this process so that Bill and I can focus on the kids.

A great start.

This was the last, in-class session with the Big Plans residency. There’s been some attrition over the five weeks so we only had six kids and Rachel, the teacher today. I even had some difficulty keeping some of the kids focused, but that’s all to be expected.

Today I brought in my Peanut Butter CDs to give out and we briefly talked about that process, similar to what we did with Playground. And, unfortunately, the kids had little chance to actually listen to that CD. Pitiful.

I then broke out my purple Strat for today’s session. I got around to figuring out my small Roland amp, bought a new adapter and dialed in a great sound for our song. Chorus, a little flange and some echo. The kids liked it, as did I.

We worked a working arrangement of the song, introduced “the riff” that I coped from a Bruce Cockburn song, sang the pared-down chorus. These kids are not into ‘show-time’, very little volume singing the chorus, and all those wonderful elements that we’ve lost over the last two years. Lethargy. It’s sad but the new paradigm.

We finished of the last verse, with little input from the kids and tried it out. The song’s starting to sound like something and the kids did pick up on that. I then handed out a bag of maracas and some shell shakers. We figured out how to add them to the riff, break the sound into separate sections, with some good results (taking ownership of different parts). We ran the whole thing to 7 plus minutes, good information for me to work with.

We still have to figure out how to present this and video it sometime in the spring. That’s a whole ‘nother story, but I figured out that the next step is to record it, video it and give it back to the school. Hopefully, the kids in sessions will get to hear it as itself, and take some pride in it, and come back to record it with more familiarity.

I like the electric version a lot, a departure for me. The process isn’t over, by any means, and now has taken a different, in-house project for me. I look forward to it. It’s great to have creative work again.


Fountain Hill Elementary School

This is the fourth out of five sessions, with some kind of performance down the line to wrap it up. There is some fatigue setting in with the students, especially with the songwriting chores. But, we’re getting there.

I’ve been bringing in a new instrument each time and today I brought in my banjo. We had a great discussion about African drums/roots, and some talk about using a skin head. (ewwww…) But the teacher and I talked about native people harvesting all of an animal in order to survive. Interesting ideas for these kids.

Part of this residency is giving the kids some sense of what I do as a musician. Today, I brought in copies of my Playground CD to give the kids (even though I have no idea if they’ll be able to play it) and discuss how musicians get their music out. We talked about You Tube and other social media and I mentioned radio (again, how foreign that must be to these kids). We looked at the CD and I mentioned how I hired other creative people in the process: musicians, photographers, designer, producer and funders. It was a great exploration.

Before we got into continuing the verse writing, I figured it was time to create a chorus. We talked about how important it was to have something repetitious, give the audience something to do, and, as one girl said, “theme.” Bingo. It’s been running through my mind to have a slow-build chorus, something Tom Paxton has used.

Chorus: I …..    I can be …… I can be anything I want to be.

I figured out a simple melody and we tried it out. I attempted a back and forth call and response (  “I” echoed 3x), I can be (together), and all together on the last one, as well. I tried it out with the girls doing the I and the boys doing the echo. These kids have very little initiative or experience in singing out loud, and with some creative movement/theatrics/emotion. It really never gained steam. Too bad. It’s going to be difficult to get these kids to perform in front of others, and that’s a major part of the final reward for the kids – that they did it!

We finished up the You Tuber,

I use a camera, lights, and a green screen

I’m gonna take my friends to places they’ve never seen

I post vids on my high-tech computer

I’m gonna be a YouTuber.

We started on Music Teacher but things got distracted with the kids close to 5 pm. At least we got another verse, part of another one, and, importantly, got a chorus started.

I chatted with Rachel at the end and we have to figure out how to present the song and the kids, whether in a video, in front of a select audience (things are different these days in the second year of the pandemic), or what. We’ll figure out something.

Another great session with the Big Plans group, though we only came up with one new verse. We did get to go over the two we’ve written already, and I was able to get them to start thinking about performing/acting the words a little more, be physical in our presentation.

We worked on Taste Tester.

I work all day in a Ice Cream Lab

Coco, Cranberry, Bacon, and Crab

I’m not clowning ‘round, I’m no Jester

I’m going to be a Taste Tester -MMMmmm!

My initial exploration (let’s have fun at first, and create a space) was with my bag of strange instruments: rain stick, temple bells, tinker drum, bamboo sticks, and some other weird sonic objects. We played around with them, passed them around and then we created an orchestral piece called Wild Times, an attempt at controlled chaos. The fun part was introducing the concept of silence, counting in on four, playing and ending with silence. (We then changed instruments and did it again.) It was really hard for some of the kids to not play during the silence, but that’s what we are learning in the process. Some control. It was a lot of fun to create this musical chaos – with a sense of control. This was a brand new idea for me, and I can develop this session further. It was a riot! Rich soil.

I was lucky to have Alan Silvestre, a videographer, to document the session, not only to get some promo for Doug Roysdon’s TA projects, but for Alan (a musician, too) to have some artistic fun filming the session. He ended up having a great time. We are limited to presenting the kids in profile or from behind, due to school protocols (I’m not allowed to put material on social media – that’s fine with me…). Some really good stuff happened and the kids were loose. Should be pretty cool. Hate the masks.

As we got the call that we had ten minutes til dismissal (the clock failed on us last week…), I decided to go for the scarves, and create some images for the video. We did Jelly in the Dish from the first week, and the kids were ready and familiar with the process. That made for a much better video session, dancing, tossing and trading scarves, and a final circle (a good closing ritual…) with explosion of scarves. I had a great seat for it.

The kids hustled off to meet their parents at 5 pm. Alan had a great time, Rachel, the art teacher, is great support, felt good about the very quick hour and a half session. Being an artist, ya know. Time disappears. I could do this for a living.

Back to Fountain Hill and my Big Plans songwriting residency. We had a good session last week and developed some good connections with the kids and the teacher. Still, it’s hard with these masks, though.

I started with something I picked up the day before at a TA session – setting up agreements with the kids. “We agree” statements – short, clear and vocalized/physical. I went with “tell the truth” and “respect each other” and “listen first”. The Respect one worked well with the crossed fingers (R in sign language) salute from the forehead. That one stuck and we used it throughout the session.

I brought the Thundertubes to do Giants, and it was a good opener. The kids passed around the tubes from each end of the circle and ended up with one girl playing both at the end. Nice. A good start.

I’ve promised to bring a new instrument each time, so I brought my mandolin and used it to re-introduce our rhyming skills with Down By the Bay. I passed the mandolin around as well.

I introduced We Gave Names to the Animals so we could use the format in our songwriting project. It worked well and then we shifted to the white board to try to start on our songwriting.  We’re concentrating  on “tools” used. We hope to be able to use the overhead projector next week to keep the words in front of the kids.

I got a microphone, a monitor, and a groovy band

Same backup dancers and loyal fans

My tunes are sick, a rap music Zinger

I’m gonna be a pop star singer


I have a salon filled with hair dyes and afros

I work on fades, extensions, weaves and updos

My clientele are all on the A-List

I’m gonna be a Stylist


I kept on looking at the clock and, somehow, it seemed to be staying on 4:26. Eventually, I asked the teacher what time it was, and, at the same time, she got a call from the office wondering where the kids were for dismissal. Seems the clock did stop. Sheesh. So, quickly, we packed up and headed out.

Still, a productive session.

It’s great to be back in the classroom. I’ll be doing four Wednesday’s after school at Fountain Hill ES working with ten 3rd and 4th graders working on a project called Big Plans. We’ll be focusing on developing a world-view for these kids, to imagine what they can be in the future. We had a good start. I started by saying that this is my job. I play music. I introduced the tools I need for this job and talked about my guitar.

I started with the idea I Am and I Can. I want the kids to posit their name loud and proud, and then posit what they can do well. I led with the example “I am Dave Fry” and “I can make the best grilled cheese sandwich!” It surprised the kids. And then I asked, “What kind of cheese sandwich?” and the kids responded with cheese, sausage, etc. The point of the exercise is to think quickly and creatively. It worked. We went around the circle and did I Am and I Can, with interesting responses but emphasizing volume and quickness, something I’m going to hammer into these kids. Be creative and don’t think about it.

I played I Like Peanut Butter to get the kids to sing and move, again, to break them out of their shells. I followed with Down By the Bay to work on rhyming skills and creative writing. They did well, and I got the glimmer that these kids will do well as we go through the weeks.

At the end, I broke out the scarves and did Jelly In The Dish, to get them up and dancing, moving and experience the colors and movement and the dance. It was a great way to bring the session to a close.

Just before we dismissed for the day, I always ask for reflections and they all loved the scarves.

I’m lucky to have Mrs. Rachel Lynn as my teacher/liaison. She’s the art teacher (and we’re in the art classroom) so she’s already primed to create on the spot and is eager to add to the community discussions.  Another good sign for the success of this program.

For next week, I hope to expand on the I Am I Can, introduce some clap response to the I Am part with vocal support from the class to help with my learning the names and creating a support system for the individual kids. Something new for me.

I’m always learning through experimentation, and the reason I love doing these sessions.

An important part of these school residencies is to have a public performance of our material. I had decided to keep the assemblies “local” and do them only for the two grades (2nd and 3rd) that supplied the few kids that participated in the eight week afterschool sessions I did. It turned out well.

I set up in the all-purpose room, sitting on the edge of the stage with the seven kids who were part of the program. That way, they could feel like they were important cogs in the process, hopefully to have them be “leaders” in the process, and get some of the perks of being “on stage” with me. This also fed into another purpose to excite the kids to join up for future summer school and afterschool programs. (I heard from Mr. Cordova that he got some immediate responses!) The seven kids got to be featured in both sessions.

I started out with I Like Peanut Butter and Tutti Tah as an icebreakers. Having the core kids on stage helped spread the focus from me to the group at large. We then did Down By the Bay and got each of the core group to come up with animals to rhyme with, and got potential rhymes from the larger group. They were really into it, and now we were working as a whole community.

I followed with I Love Horses, a rather short and uninspired song, but I prefaced it with asking the core group what each one wanted to be when they grew up: art teacher, nurse, vet, ballet dancer, all part of the recent recognition that these kids should be exposed to these ideas early on. (The more affluent communities do this more naturally, it seems.)

We did The Bear Hunt, using the core group’s additions (haunted house, corn maze, waterfall, volcano) and I got everyone up to physically move to the verses. Great energy, and the core group really enjoyed moving on stage. Again, taking leadership in front of their peers.

I introduce the second (and stronger) song We’re Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo, a small ripoff of a Woody Guthrie song and it was a hoot. A good chorus that repeats with humorous verses.

I finished off with All Around the Kitchen to get every one up and dancing. Again, I featured the core group on stage to provide their dances and then invited audience kids to come up on stage to share their dances. The gym was rocking and the kids in the audience got some stage time, as well.

At the end, I did my regular reflection time to ask the group as to what songs we sang. They responded immediately, picking up all of the tunes. This means they absorbed all of the material and that’s what I was looking for. (I should have asked the teachers what they liked. That’s some rich feedback, as well.)

I wasn’t sure how this format would work out, but it seems my instincts were correct. The actual songwriting sessions were not what I wished for (lack of teacher presence and afterschool energy). But the core group got recognition in front of their peers, and everyone had a chance to be intellectually and physically involved.

A successful residency.

I finished up my five week session at Marvine ES by getting the kids to take different lines in the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo song and it worked somewhat as they took some ownership of the song. Still, other than the active musical experience, I didn’t have much to show for it. We’ll see if I do an assembly but there’s little that would work on a stage in front of the whole school. I do have some thoughts though on how to make it work.

Here’s my report to the school district:

To my friends on the BASD School Board;

I returned to Marvine School for another songwriting residency (I’ve have a long relationship with this school) this fall for five afterschool sessions with second and third graders. My task was to tackle Arts  and the Workplace for this session, trying to introduce my students to the idea of becoming a working person in this community after they’ve left school. We talked about what their parents did for a living. We brainstormed ideas: nurse, teacher, animal doctor, horse-trainer, and others. We then started to write songs about several of these ideas. The process was enlightening on several levels.

We had fun imagining what these professionals do, but the students had very superficial knowledge of the terminology and skills of these jobs. (They didn’t know that a veterinarian is an animal doctor) But, through our conversations, work on rhymes and story development, we began to understand quite a bit more about that person’s life. It would be great to follow up the song with a classroom visit from such a professional.

There was some initial talk with the school about presenting the songs at a school assembly but, for several reasons (especially at this grade level) we didn’t. But I thought that peer-group presentations would work well, if not better. Doing a tour of their classrooms would be really productive: less pressure, with multiple performances and more familiar spaces. This was a new concept for me.

These sessions were a mix of this songwriting play/work and creative movement, songs, dance, storytelling, use of rhythm instruments and just having fun after school. As was expected, I did have issues with retaining focus with this age group but, all in all, we had a rich, learning experience. Gabriella said last Wednesday, “I wish every day was Dave Fry day.”

Thank you for your support of this project.

Dave Fry


As much as I enjoy working with these kids, I’m having trouble keeping them in focus during the afterschool sessions. I don’t have teacher support during my work, so it’s a constant battle with some of the kids to keep them in line. Today, it was a bug under one of the desks, writing stuff on the white board and the inevitable running around. Still, we had some fun and made some progress on one of the songs. I borrowed from Woody Guthrie’s Zoo song and the chorus gives the song some staying power.

I’m Working at the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

Maryalice, Gabriella, Jaidale and Kilianys, Leeann and Tito

I’m working at the zoo, zoo, zoo,             G

I’m working at the zoo, zoo, zoo,             C

I’m working at the zoo, zoo, zoo,             D

Wanna come along, too, too, too?          G


I love animals; I like to care for my pet,                          D C G

I’ll think I’ll be a zoo doctor, a cool zoo vet.                   D C G


Bamboo to the pandas, to clean their teeth,

Rub sunscreen on the zebras, to beat the heat.


Medicine for the giraffe’s throat, it’s really sore.

Put an ice pack on the lion’s foot, so she won’t roar.


I’ll wake up the sloth with a cup of coffee,

The tiger’s tummy was upset, the meat too salty.


I’ve got pills for the elephant’s stuffed up trunk,

It seems the monkeys are in a strange funk.

I hoped to have the kids edit it, and start to sing and add movements to the song, but the grade level and cultural learning lag keeps it from sinking in. They didn’t even remember the title at the end of the session. We did talk about where we would sing this song and they offered it to the K – 3rd grades. I offered that we sing it for the principal, video, etc., hoping to expand their horizons for how a song is put in public.

I brought out Bear Hunt for the first time, and, again, they kept interjecting their thoughts (which is actually a sign of their curiosity and interest). I finally got around to asking what they would put in and they came up with: haunted house (with creaky floors), haunted corn maze (looking lost), waterfall (really, really, really, really, really cold) and volcano (with lava). We spend some time in performing it, in spite of the bug in the corner.

The kids are engaged if not focused, and I guess that’s the main take-away from this whole residency.

I took some FB advice to play with the kids first and work on the song second since they have to play  and burn some energy after a day at school. The three girls Maryalice, Kilianys and Gabriella wanted to jump into the puppets in the bag but settled for the Thunder-tubes. The attendance is pitiful but I’m glad to work with these three girls. They want to have some fun.

Being close to Halloween, I decided we would use them to construct a short play based on walking past a haunted house. I establish Cat Came Back chords and away we went. On the porch of the house were 3 spiders, as big as a guitar. They were doing Fortnight with three dance moves: “T-snake, the Floss and the third one just said, “Taco, taco, taco!!!” I knocked on the door and I heard the Thunder-tubes. When I said, “Ice Cream” they all stopped. I knocked again and the three voices said, “Choc!  O! Lat!” and I said, “I scream for ice cream!” and we all ran away. We called it Spooky House.

It wasn’t particularly literary but the four of us came up with suggestions and the girls had a great time using their imaginations. I invest in their ideas and roll with them. That’s the point of it all.

It was time to start working on writing our song. I had done some homework and we decided to work on the horse-tender verse. This was pretty new for them, and I’m not sure how proficient their reading skills are, but we came up with two verses that have a storyline.

I love horses, I’ll be a horse-tender if I’m able.

I’ll work on the farm, down in the stable.

Put on a blanket and saddle and go for a ride.

Down the hill to the beach by the ocean-side,

Our horse splashes in the blue waves.

We could do this every day,

Back to the barn, I groom my friend’s hide

Wash, brush and dry, she’s my best pride.

Again, big holes to fix but that’s part of the process. We’ll have a chance next week to work on the arrangement and edit. The energy was pretty scattered in the second verse. They really wanted to play with the puppets, play my guitar. I figured we got some work in so I acquiesced.

The puppet play was scattered; they really wanted to run around the room. I tried to get their puppets to play an instrument to little avail. Thankfully, the girls take my suggestions and add their own wrinkles to the creativity and that’s what it’s all about, I guess.

We packed up the bag in time for dismissal and we all headed home at five. The time went quickly because we were involved and I appreciated that they got me out of a funk that I was in.

Next week, we’ll review our verses and try to work on Nurse or Vet.

These Marvine afterschool sessions are tough. It’s been two weeks since the last one and found myself moved from music room to a class room (surprise!) and attendance is already down to three girls, two of whom are new. Such is the challenge.

The bright Maryalice (one word….) returned with Jaidale and Kilianys joining in. My cultural shortcomings are up front when I am confronted with these new names. I have to ask them to spell it out and struggle when I talk to them. No boys this time, and for that I’m grateful. Perhaps we’ll get some focus today. No Gabriella, Melina or Leeanne.

Kilianys started out pretty shy so I made sure that she was encouraged to add to the conversation, and, thankfully, she came out of her shell and felt good about participating. Mission accomplished.

Since I have to work on the theme of “What I’m going to be”, I took advantage of a quiet time in the beginning (instead of immediately playing music), each girl listed two possibilities including nurse, horse rider (equestrian – we’ll work on that term later), teacher, Spanish teacher, veterinarian. Nice possibilities. I also told them I was a postal worker, a cook, a dishwasher and worked construction.

We worked on what a nurse does (K’s mom is one): take care of kids, grandpa and grandma, put a broken arm in a sling,  sew up a cut with needle and a big band-aid, give flu shots, check your heart and blood pressure, push your grandma in a wheelchair. This will give us a base to work from, though it seems I’ll have provide quite a bit of set up. There’s very little focus with a small group, an afterschool situation and no teacher support. I’m still a babysitter, too.

We picked up on horse tender next. We talked about where: farm, barn and new word, stables. The work involved putting on a saddle, new word “reins”, feed the horses hay (?) and carrots, have babies (new word “foal”), brush and clean the horses. A start. Semi-urban school with no rural experiences, it seems.

Veterinarian: a doctor who cares for pets, dogs, rabbits, cats, kittens, puppies, kangaroos (?!), pandas and cheetah (baby). I accept all input and I can often use the quirks in the song for spice.

It seems we got some good head-work in early. So I shifted to some play. I opened up the bag and decided to do Giant with the thundertubes and they immediately came up with a new sound, as a vocal chamber. So we also worked up marching in a circle to the beat, playing the tubes, vocalizing, freezing when the music stops, marching in the other direction. We were simply going with the flow. By now, all three girls were involved, coming up with new ideas. I did have the thought that if an educator was walking the halls at the moment, and happened to listen in, he/she would be aghast. But this is how I work. It’s about the creative process.

The girls were champing at the bit to play with the puppets, so, for the last ten minutes, we did Old MacDonald. The trick, at this level, is to get the child to animate the puppet’s mouth with the singing. This was new to them (2nd/3rd graders) but they easily picked up on it after some work. I’m not sure that culturally they’ve had the chance to do this at home. Just a thought, referring to my early childhood as a reference, I remember using my hand as a vocal puppet (Ninger was his name) with my sisters.

It was a particularly rainy and grey day, I was a little depressed coming in and the session was intense so I left a little dazed. But, it’s work like this that makes the time worthwhile. It remains important to keep this journal for reflection and a record for where I have to go for the next session.

I’m back at Marvine ES for another afterschool residency this fall, with weekly visits with 2nd and 3rd graders this time. I’ve had mixed success with the K’s and 1st’s and I hope this will be better. I have five kids signed up with four girls and one boy. Already, the boy Ezequiel is a little rambunctious and has a hard time focusing. He’ll be a challenge. The girls Mary Alice, Gabriella, Melina and Leeanne are pretty good kids and are attentive and engaging, so I’m pleased with this beginning session.

Eventually, we’ll get around to the theme of “What I’m Going to Be When I Grow Up” but this was more of an introduction to singing together (I Like Peanut Butter), some basic rhyming (Down By the Bay), and movement (Jelly in the Dish). We worked on some tambourine techniques and I was able to work for most of the full hour with the kids (as Ezeq started to fade).

Part of this blog effort is give me a record of our activities so I can check in for the next session.

Jaguar playing air guitar with Michael Myers

Snake bake a fake cake.

Cat with a red and white hat

Cheetah eat a ham and cheese pita (with tune and tomato)

Goldfish swish in a dish.

We’ll do some good work together, and we barely dug into the bag.