All entries filed under Dave Fry Elementary Assembly


Another rare gig, this time two assemblies for pre-K – 2nd grades in Jersey City, not far from NYC. Maya Angelou School – how cool is that name for a school? I am often somewhat daunted by these inner city gigs, mostly because of the traffic and the parking. Luckily, the school had a side lot for me to unload and park in, after I had to fight “drop off” time early on. I was scheduled for ~ 250 kids per show so I had to forgo my scarves and instrument bag and go for the strictly song set. I had pre-K / 2nd and then K / 1st, but no really big deal. We’re gonna dance.

I was in an auditorium so I had to cut back on large group dancing, with the kids in seats. I hauled in my amplifier (so glad that I don’t use the big PA anymore), set up on stage and waited for the 9:30 show.

My opening consists of I Like Peanut Butter and Tutti Tah, both good introductory tunes, with movement, and I go from there. Down By The Bay, I Wanna Be a Dog, We Gave Names to the Animals, Giants, Cat Came Back, All Around the Kitchen. 

With these large groups, I try to bring up a core of teachers for Giants to play Thunder Tubes, partly because the little kids might hurt themselves and the teachers reactions are fairly humorous, as was the case today. The kids get a chance to witness the teachers in an unusual situation. I’ve been asking the teachers to give me their “teacher glare” during the song, and the teachers respond wonderfully.

All Around the Kitchen provides a great finale in that the kids are up and dancing, and I invite three or four kids up on stage to show off their dance moves. Lots of The Floss this time, but, upon encouragement, the kids come up with some different and fun moves (which have to be named, as well). I bring up a teacher for the last set, and, again, that really makes for entertaining moments (usually The Twist).

Playing for this age group in an inner city situation makes for a challenging gig, but, somehow, I seem to be able to pull it off.

The ride back home on Rt 78 was through a blinding thunder storm, but I was feeling gratified for being employed and being on the road again. That’s good.

It was a long time coming for me, returning to perform in an elementary school again, and I was glad to shake some of the rust off. I headed down the Blue Route to Wayne, PA for a 2 pm assembly for about 100 Kindergarteners and five teachers. I set up in a relatively small but carpeted assembly room. I parked my small amp, guitar in front of the stage, conversed with the PTA mom for a half hour and in came the kids. They seemed a little sluggish, but no matter.

I launched into I Like Peanut Butter, The Tuttie Tah, Giants and more. I was a little sluggish myself when I started Bear Hunt (.how many thousands of times I’ve done this?) but gathered my thoughts and pulled it off. I also forgot my bag of scarves for Jelly in the Dish so I was kicking myself for my lack of mental accuitity. It’s been two months since I’ve performed, and, with a bout of RSV and my cancer-recovery, I’ve been in a fog. I guess it’s creeping senior-ility.

Regardless, it was a good show, and we finished off dancing. I improvised Jelly by throwing in some dance moves in between verses, jumping up where I usually do the scarf-toss. It worked. My reflection session at the end was good, as well. The teachers liked the dancing, animals and rhyming with We Gave Names, and one teacher liked my reverse memorization that I did with Tutti Tah (we talked about the moves in reverse order) and more. I particularly like that, after the kids tell me what they liked, the adults in the room get to speak in front of the kids, reinforcing what we did outloud. I think the kids pick up on that.

I packed up, with the nice help of the PTA mom, and headed back to the Lehigh Valley. It was good to be back in the saddle after too long on the sidelines. I wish I could do it more often.

After finishing up at Donegan, I recharged a bit before heading to Bala Cynwyd, PA for a 3 pm holiday show at a preschool at St. John’s church. I had been paid for this back in the early fall, so that gave the gig a different flavor.

I set up my small PA in an open area in the old stone church. I had a chance to take in the marvelous architecture, the amazing stained-glass windows and the quiet power of this space.

I was to play for about 50 kids and 10 teachers and they all trooped in and sat on the marble floor in front of me. I launched into I Like Peanut Butter and the Tutti Tah and followed with some Christmas sing-alongs. The kids were good, and the toddlers were up dancing early on. As is often the case, some of the younger teachers were hesitant in joining in, but I tried to involve them, to minor success.

I handed out scarves to the crowd (I was glad I had put together my entire collection for this), and we danced up a storm to Children, Go Where I Send Thee. It was a good way to get the kids up, sharing scarves with each other and bringing the session to a close, all within in a good 45 time span.

I headed home in late afternoon Philly traffic (I don’t miss this part too much) and landed, tired but satisfied with a busy day on the planet. Just in time to come down with the flu.

Today, we got to premier Let’s Make a Change, written by my afterschool group at Donegan School. It was in the middle of the school’s winter concert, so I sat through the choral group and the instrumental group with their songs. Not to bad.

The instrumental teacher introduced himself as a fan from his primary days at Fountain Hill ES here in town. He remembered clearly The Cat Came Back. That was cool, but I had to tell him that, during the pandemic, I was asked not to play that song because of its racist roots. He agreed that that was strange.

I had set up my small amplifier and mike on stage ahead of time and my turn rolled around. I brought up my kids, taught the assembly crowd the chorus and away we went. The kids tried some of the hand motions to the lyrics but I was concentrating on the words and my presentation. It went off fairly smoothly, and, as we had planned, when we hit the final chorus, the gang picked up scarves and headed out into the audience. It turned out to be quite a nice touch, and as they returned to the stage, we had our ‘big’ ending. Scarves up in air at the final crunch. That went well.

A good conclusion to the five week residency. The song could have been better but I think the kids had a good time as we played rhyming games, fine-tuned the lyrics and added movements. I had hoped for more of the kids’ contribution to the body of the song, but things are decidedly different post-Covid.

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.

I returned to Pine Run ES in New Britain, PA for two assemblies on Wednesday morning. I played here a long time ago and as I was welcomed back, one teacher reminded me that I had done a songwriting residency here back in 1996. We had written two songs A Day at Pine Run and Pine Run 2021 and the school had put the cassette of these songs in a time capsule that was opened just last year after 25 years. (They couldn’t find a cassette player to play it…. I said it was like the CD’s I had with me today.)

I had a great chat with the custodian about guitars, etc. (how many custodians I meet are musicians?!) I set up in the gym and waited for the fun to begin. It’s been a while since I’ve done a solo show, so I was scratching my head on what to do, but trusted my instincts.

Both shows went well as I rattled off I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, We Gave Names, Down By the Bay, Giants and All Around the Kitchen. The response was great.

I brought my mandolin with me on this one and used it to “go mobile” (no mikes and wander the crowd), break the plane, as they say, for Down By the Bay. As we made up rhymes, it was a good device to engage the whole audience (including the 6th graders!). I eventually pit one side of teachers to come up with animals for the other rank of teachers, and the back and forth between them proves to be a gas, with the students invested as well. The process proves to be electric.

It’s always a challenge to engage the older classes and the teacher who booked me made a point of thanking the sixth grade for “modelling” good behavior by staying involved, to make an example for the younger students. I backed her up on that, and the kids actually did it. As I told the custodian as we headed out to my car at the end, I often have a chip on my shoulder when the older kids get an attitude and I react in kind. I recognize this tendency and try to reign myself in, in spite of myself. Today, the good vibes were evident.

As I’m doing these days, at the end of the show, I asked the teachers what they like about the show. This also models for the students positive feedback of what just happened as a community and adults having a conversation. It also reinforces the concepts I foster as a Teaching Artist. Things came up like: rhyming, having fun, dancing as a community, creativity, laughter, and I like to follow up with, how rare these opportunities are for a school community. A very rich moment for us all.

I wonder what those old Pine Run songs sound like? I wish I had a copy of them, twenty five years later.


It’s been a nice rebound of spring gigs for RockRoots and we finished our spring tour up at McGinn ES in Scotch Plains, NJ this morning. Luckily, it was an easy hour-plus drive from the Lehigh Valley across 78, and I set up early. We were booked for two assemblies at 9 and 10 am, with ~250 kids per show.

The first show was for the K – 2nd grades, some of whom had never been in an assembly before. It was fairly noisy, but the kids pulled it in eventually. They were fine. Lots of dancing at the end, and the teachers loved it.

The second show was for 3 and 4th grades. I was able to lift the educational level with these kids, and I think the PTA women and the principal appreciated it. We played well, and I think I finally got most of the monologue back in shape over the last three months.

There was a big traffic jam on 78 in PA on the return trip but I had some great Little Feat tunes to keep my mind satisfied. It’s good to be back on the road.

This YANJ has been on the calendar for months and I’ve had lingering concerns about it, since it was booked as a virtual “Zoom” concert for about 500 kids and teachers. I have had very, very few of these over the last two years and my confidence was somewhat lacking. I also distrust the technology platforms, and the school wanted a new one for this one: Google Meet.

I did several stabs at learning the platform this weekend, and it seemed similar to Zoom, et al, so I plunged ahead, set things up in my kitchen on Tuesday with camera, computer, lighting, banjo, mandolin and guitar. The sound check was set for 9 am today with the principal and it went well. We decided that I would use a vocal mike to help the situation and that was a good move.

We had told the teachers to expect the kids to get up and dance across the separate classrooms. This is a big school so there were about 400 K – 4th graders going to be in the “audience”.

A 9:30 show-time rolled around, the individual classes started showing up, and the teachers were encouraged to show the classrooms on the grid. That turned out to be a great feature for me, and I had some visual feedback on how the kids were reacting. They were all responding and gave me a boost.

I rolled through I Like Peanut Butter, The New Cat Came Back (with acknowledgement of racist beginnings), Down By The Bay (mandolin), A Place In The Choir (banjo, with “All The World’s Critters” thrown in), and Giant, We Gave Names to the Animals and All Around The Kitchen as a dance fest at the end. It was a crisp 45 minute set.

The principal said that it was the best assembly they’ve had and hoped that the school will bring me in for a live assembly next year.

It was a taxing effort on my part, and I pulled it off well, with no errors (surprise, surprise, with such a lay-off), and I used all of my virtual performance skills in engaging the kids, acknowledging them, encouraging them, hamming it up, all through that little white light in the camera. It’s not easy.

I find myself exhausted, even eight hours later, but feeling good that I nailed this opportunity to reach hundreds of kids and teachers without having to put in three hours of driving to and from NJ. It should be a healthy paycheck as well. A good day on the planet.

I had replace my car battery later though, and my hands show the wear and tear of physical labor.

I had my second virtual assembly program on Thursday morning through Young Audiences of NJ. This was for Valley View ES in Califon, NJ, a school I believe I’ve played live with RockRoots in the past. It was slated for 300 in-school kids (K-4) and assorted children tuning in remotely.

This was my first using the OSB studio and posting to Vimeo for the school. It’s been a steep learning curve that started last October with YANJ and, finally, I was putting my boots on the ground here in April. I was lucky to have a session with Chris, the tech guy at YA earlier in the week, so I was fairly confident that things were in order – but ya never know…. It does occupy my mind.

The OBS system sets up scenes for each song, so I can put a graphics, lyrics, etc. up for the kids. I also developed three videos for guitar, banjo and mandolin that came off nicely and was able to play those in the flow of the show. My camera and the built-in mike work well and I’m glad I got a good one awhile ago. I decided to skip the green screen for now. Perhaps I’ll work that back in later on.

I wasn’t sure if everyone would be remote, but I found out the day before that most of the kids were physically in school. The school wanted a “chat” available and I looked forward to working with that aspect. As it turns out, with only a few kids online at home, the chat was pretty much limited to the teachers, the librarian and a few kids at home. They were chirping along until the librarian texted that those kids should treat their comments like talking during a performance. Such is the state of these sessions. Still, it was interesting.

As I finished out the show, one home-schooler kept texting, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’. He wanted more, so I texted him that I was glad he had a good time. He texted back, “Okay.’ So that was cool.

The school enjoyed the show: “I just wanted to reach out personally and let you know how thrilled our staff and students were with both Cello Fury and Dave Fry!  I was apprehensive about the virtual setting but it has been awesome!” It’s a good thing when it works out.

It was a lot of work to put together the tech, but I don’t mind the details; I realized that once I was in performance, I was in my element, doing what I do best – interacting with the ether and the little white dot on the camera. A leap of faith, but it’s in my wheelhouse.

I found that I was exhausted the rest of the afternoon, though. Even though there’s no travel, it remains an intense performing session. It’s good to have this one under my belt.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made a journal entry, basically because I haven’t had many gigs to talk about. There were a few farmers’ markets in the fall but no school gigs for a year. Finally, I had my first Zoom assemblies on Friday with a new school in Allentown – Anna May Hayes ES, a combination of two older inner city schools, including Cleveland ES, a school I’ve played for over 30 years. My friend John Christie taught there some 18 years ago and some of the teachers remember me from back then.

I was sponsored by Community in Schools, an umbrella organization for art/education for all the elementary Allentown schools. The process was long and tedious (and expensive) since this organization insists on background checks on several levels (even for Zoom). I rounded up my paperwork and sent it in, only to find out that they were all outdated. So, I embarked on my PA Child Abuse, FBI Criminal Record and fingerprinting (seems my prints go out f date, too.) So, I spent a bunch of money to keep the gig. So it goes these days.

I was part of a Rewards Friday program for the kids, all of whom are still at home, working on Zoom with their teachers. The school itself is now complete and sitting empty, apparently a beautiful building waiting to open. I was scheduled for two half-hour sessions, with 3 – 5 students and then K – 2 next. I must say that this has been hanging over my head for weeks and I was eager to get it done. I lose sleep over these things.

Green screen studio in kitchen

I did a lot of prep for this, having done quite a few Teaching Artists sessions over the last 10 months on Zoom technology and audience techniques. I finally got to use my green screen and external camera and that was fun. I also decided to use a video I worked up with John Christie on Giants and used it in the first session with the older kids. I decided not to use it for the second group; it seemed to distract from the “liveness” of the show. I’m sure some of the teachers in attendance would have enjoyed seeing their old comrade, but so it goes.

The green screen allowed me to change scenery for each song, something I figured would help retain eyes on the screen. I believe it served that purpose. I used peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Mars landscape, beach, assembly kids, a sine wave, etc. I had things in order so the transitions were fairly smooth.

I did I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, Cat Came Back, I Wanna Be a Dog, Giants (video), and Tropical Vacation. I emphasized movement and dance, as well as singing, and that proved really effective, even surprising several of the teachers unfamiliar with how I work.

Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the kids on the grid to watch and record their interactions. I was on the school’s Zoom account. I really wanted to be able to connect with individual students and also get some visual feedback from the show. I hope to learn from this for future Zooms.

Quotes from teachers:

“He has a love for music, children and entertaining and well… that just clicks.”

“Fun, making faces with the kids!”

“The children were dancing, smiling and engaged! Dave has a gift for connecting with children. You can’t ask for more in a performance. Highly recommended.”

I found myself physically and mentally exhausted afterwards and missed the closure of getting the $$ check afterwards. I was extremely glad to  complete the task that was weighing on me for months, and proud that it seemed to go well. It’s not the same, by any means, as performing for 500 kids in an auditorium, but rewarding unto itself.

Old school on the hill. No snow today.

I had a very nice assembly at at small town school in Hampton in western NJ this morning. It was pleasant to only have a 45 minute trip through this beautiful Jersey countryside. The principal greeted me at the door and showed me the gym/auditorium and I set up in good time for my 8:45 am set.

There were only 90 kids, K – 5th grade, and the principal said it was a treat to have such a small population to work with. I even remarked to her that I saw kids walking up the hill from the town to the school. Walking to school ! Damn. One grade looked like it had only seven girls in it.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an assembly – things are particularly slim in the school biz these days – but I rolled out the show with the good stuff. There were several very disgruntled 5th grade boys who were not about to show any interest. I prodded them a couple of times and but told myself not to focus on them and play to the students and teachers who were obviously ready to boogie. Good move.

I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, Cat Came Back, Bear Hunt (we put together one about a Ghost Shark), Baby Shark, Down By the Bay, Giants, All Around the Kitchen. Lots of interaction, humor and movement.

As I’m doing these days, I was able to finish with a session of reflections from the kids and the teachers. The kids had a tough time remembering what we did early in the show, but that’s okay. It’s the process that’s important. The interesting feedback came from the teachers (I had set it up that they would follow the kids’ thoughts). They chimed in with: interaction, using rhyming skills, adjectives (!), movement, getting kids up on stage and involved from their seats and more. They got it.

This conversation with the teachers is proving to be a college-level workshop for them (and me). My whole presentation becomes a model for arts presentation in the schools, and this confirms it. I’m able to add a few comments along the way to let them know why I do what I do, and that I do it on purpose. It’s also a good way to have the kids sit in on the talk, and hear what the staff liked.

I learned something today, as well. As we finished up the reflections, it dawned on me that I should let them know what I also learned. I said that I was glad that I refrained on focusing on the negative energy from parts of the audience and let it slide. I have had some uncomfortable situations in the past and, hopefully, with this admission to these teachers, I may have helped myself. Never too late to change my ways.

I wish I could do this every day.

I was asked to do a full-school event at noon for Holy Infancy, my local parochial school. It was scheduled for lunch time and I was to follow Lety Gutiarrez  who featured Hispanic dance and song. She started at 11:30 just as the kids dove into the food that the parents had cooked for their classrooms. She was a remarkable presenter and she had a very tough time slot.

New school near 5th St.

I set up for a 12 noon start and, thank goodness, the bulk of the kids had finished eating. They were up immediately and got them dancing right away. The energy was great and I think it surprised the new principal. Cat Came Back, I Like Peanut Butter, etc. The high point for us all was the Holy Infancy song we had written several years ago, complete with hand motions and sign language. Thanks to teacher Paula Gabriel, it was a great experience.

Again, I do this pro bono, since the school has been my neighborhood base, and it is extremely gratifying to return here and be supported by these wonderful kids and teachers.

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.

New school near 5th St.

This was my second visit with these kids at the new site of Holy Infancy. I checked back to what I did a month ago so I wouldn’t repeat myself, but also to see what the kids retained from that session. At the beginning of the session, I asked what they remembered and was glad to hear Tutti Tah, Giants, Peanut Butter, Down by the Bay, I Wanna Be a Dog and Spider on the Floor. That was a really good sign of retention.

I started with Water Melon on the Vine to see if they could handle the slurp. They did fine and it was a good, loose way to re-introduce myself to them. I followed with Spider on the Floor and explored some different body parts (hip, shoulder, cheek, ear, hat), trying to keep the focus on rhymes. (The younger kids had tough time through out the session, but that’s why this is valuable work for them – the teachers appreciate it.)

We did Tutti Tah and I brought up two of the quieter kids to do it with me and you could see them take a shine to being up front of their classmates. It’s important to share the lead with songs we’ve done before. I did Peanut Butter and Jelly, a new one for these kids, with getting the boys up, the girls up – really active and fun.

I introduced Names to the Animals and had some fun with that, again, pressing the rhymes in the third and fourth verses. I promised to do some new ones next time: manatee (Mrs.Perez came up with “insanity”!!), mouse, tiger, lion, monkey.

I finished up with my scarf set with Jelly in the Dish – again, new to these kids and these teachers. It’s a really strong exercise as we go through the “disappearing”, facial emotions, letters of the alphabet and finally the dancing, sharing, etc. I noticed that even if the pre-K don’t know how to do the letter-painting, there’s lots of color and movement involved so they have a good time anyway. The first graders get it right away.

I asked the three teachers what they appreciated and they agreed the rhyming skills are important and the scarf set was good as well.

I left energized on a Monday afternoon on the SouthSide. I’ll be back for a Christmas assembly for the whole school and back in January with this group.


Old school on 4th St.

I headed up to the new site of Holy Infancy School, now up South Mountain a half mile from home. What was a gargantuan school has been moved to a more modern building and it’s quite nice. Lots of windows and sun light. I lined up an acoustic set for the pre-k, K and 1st kids in the cafeteria at 8:45.

I’m having some communication problems with the new principal as I sat in the office for a half hour until one of the teachers came down looking for me while the kids were waiting upstairs. When I got up to the space, I unpacked and introduced myself to the kids. (I am long-time friends with the teachers, going back at least 12 years)

New school on Pierce St.

Since these were new kids for me, I launched into my standard set: I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, Down by the Bay, I Wanna Be a Dog, Giants and Magic Penny. The teachers allowed me lots of time (they said, “It’s a Monday.”) so I was able to do some in depth work.

We did Tutti Tah and then spent some time unpacking it by reversing the process. What came last, second to last, etc. It was tough but the older kids latched on and we worked it through. Down by the Bay involved creative rhyming with animals they came up with. Again, the older kids pick up on it. (Even though the little ones don’t know about these skills yet, it is a great model for them and an important exposure for them.)

As I do frequently in these small group sessions, at the end I asked the kids, “What did we do today?” We worked on recalling song names, etc. The important thing being reflection and conversation.

I then asked the three teachers what they liked: reverse-engineering, movement and rhyming skills. It’s good to hear from them, and good for the kids to hear, as well.

The principal dropped in for some of the later work and got to see some the “best practices” that I use. After the show, she thanked me for being part of the school curriculum and is going to install some “best practices” with the teachers shortly. I said I’d like to come back to this group monthly as well as do a Christmas time show for the whole school, like I’ve done in the past.

As we parted, I was surprised that she asked me if I felt okay. I said that I had some strong coffee this morning and apologized for being somewhat intense. But I said, it is intense work for me. I really don’t know how to be more mellow when I’m in the heat of these sessions. I am on stage, frankly, trying to figure out how to engage 40 young kids.

So it goes. Good work for no pay.

My friend Carole Devey Schachter signed me up for this assembly for the few days of a four-week English immersion program for Bethlehem Area school students. There were about 50 kids (K -5), 10 counselors and 10 teachers in the gym. I certainly don’t know much Spanish but tried to keep things simple and hope the kids would hang in there. It turned out to be no problem. I was glad that the counselors and teachers joined in and helped create a engaged atmosphere. I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, I Wanna Be a Dog, Giants, Names to the Animals, Tropical Vacation and Splish Splash had everyone singing, moving and laughing, and we got out the instruments at the end.

As I am doing recently, I gathered everyone to reflect on what we did. The kids came out with standard sing, play, dance and then the teachers came with some richer stuff: hand motions, giggling and laughing, Giants, and the like. I’m glad I’m doing this at the end of some recent assemblies. I find it’s important to have the kids hear from the adults.

These were motivated kids and the overall reaction to the set showed me that, and made the morning pass quickly.

I’ve been lucky to have a annual spring assembly at this local Bethlehem school. It pays well, but it gives me an opportunity to use our familiarity to try out new material and performance techniques on the fly. There are favorites that I have to play, but I get to develop new wrinkles in delivering  them.

I decided to do the new Cat Came Back lyrics from the recent Tracy ES residency but also had one side of the group sing the chorus to the other, standing up while working on their ‘stage’ delivery. Once one side did it (with a standing ovation from the other), we reversed the roles. And then, of course, I had the teachers stand and deliver their chorus. I enjoy the shocked look on some of the newer teachers’ faces, but that’s the whole point. The faculty is used to my challenges and I appreciate their cooperation.

I then played Down By the Bay and Tracy’s new words. I used that a springboard to use the two sides again. I put down the guitar and stepped in the middle aisle and got an interesting animal from one side, asked the other side to find a rhyme and then asked one group of teachers to come up with an action word in the middle. It worked really well and bound the whole audience together. I then reversed the process. There were only two verses but it really broke down the performer/audience divide, a good theatrical device. “Did you ever see a crane bungee-jumping, that’s insane!”

From Calypso’s Centennial Birthday in 2017.

I dug out the song we wrote in November of 2016 (finished the day after the election!) called Hey, Ho, Calypso! It was written for the 100th birthday of the school and tried to connect the commonality of kids going to school: school bells, lunch, playground games, classes and going home after school. I had to leaf back through this journal to find the words (thank you, Dave!). I taught the audience the clapping riff and the chorus, and, while going through it, I noticed several of the 5th graders joining in. I immediately asked them up. So, we got to play the song with these two boys and two girls leading their fellow students in the song. Towards the end, I dropped out my vocal and guitar and we heard just the kids and teachers sing it a Capella. It was some powerful juju, indeed.

A live version of the song was recorded in spring of 2017 and the spirit of the song holds up well. ( I was greeted by the big banner from then above me as I walked in the front door.

It was hot in the gym, and I had decided to do the show standing up, something that takes a toll on me in my old-age, so I was a soaking mess. But, as I drove to a close, I needed to get the kids up and dancing so I started with You Keep A’Knockin’ which morphed into getting the kids to Floss, Orange Justice and other current dances. I then asked if anyone could invent The Calypso and several kids came and did some great interpretive dances. As I wrapped up the show, several teachers said, “Where’s Baby Shark?” So I corralled everybody back in and away we went. Now that there’s a viral video, there is an undercurrent of kids trying to correct what I’m doing, but I forged ahead with my version.

All in all, it was an exhausting but wonderful opportunity to explore some creativity on the part of this community and myself as an artist.

The last week of January is a welcome sight on my booking calendar – it’s Catholic Schools Week (!!!), the one week when parochial schools blow their arts’ funding to bring in folks like me to rile up the kids. I have four gigs this week and, weather permitting, a good way to supplement a slow time of the year.

Monday was a return to a small school in nearby Hellertown, St. Theresa’s, a school that I’ve played in the past. I was tickled to be asked to return for an assembly. I set up in the basement’s lunch room/stage, one I can clearly recall from years past. There’s something about a low ceiling, a bingo machine and a cheap sound system that screams Middle America and my place in the process.

It was the beginning of CSW so the kids and teachers were juiced. It was also Donut Day and there was a vast array of spectacular and deadly delights at the other end of the room. As it is with several of these small Catholic schools, it’s a K – 8th grade so I have my work cut out to bridge this vast age gap (and still play to the teachers), but it’s a wonderful artistic challenge. I seem to make it work.

I had an interesting wrinkle in the process. The 8th graders were doing a buddy system with the K’s so they were sitting on the floor up front so I had my most challenging segment right in my face. It did shape my early set. When I get the kids up to do the Tutti Tah, it’s important that everyone does it, to set the bar for community action. And, sure enough, the older boys really don’t like to loosen up, and I have the bad habit of focusing on them. It often works and the rest of the school gets to see these guys in a new light. The teachers do appreciate the effort. One commented that the one I worked on was the “leader” of the group. I got radar, I guess.

I rolled out my current staples: Cat Came Back, Names to the Animals, Bear Hunt, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Giants and All Around the Kitchen, all bonafide assembly tunes. Each has some special moments that link me with the kids, the teachers, the school and my past history with this school. Each gig is a creative enterprise and I feel good when it works like today. And I got a great donut!


I was done on a Monday morning, check in the bank and back home by 11:30. Dis ain’t too shabby.


I returned to Alpha Public School for a morning assembly for about 260 K – 8th grade students and their teachers. When I arrived I was met by the English teacher who told me that I had been here in 1991 with RockRoots and in 2005 as a solo. I knew I’d been here before but it was curious to find out exactly when. Apparently, the RR gig was in our first year as a band, so that’s pretty deep history. Another teacher came up and said she was from Bridgeton ES, a now defunct school in rural PA that I had a great relationship with in the 80’s, while I was still figuring out my solo folk show. We hugged and I said that I’m glad that we’re still in the game. This web goes back pretty far.

I set up in the gym in front of the stage so I could be down among the audience. It meant that the whole school would be on the floor with me. As the kids came in, I goofed around with the first graders and went back to the eighth graders to explain that I may play down to the younger kids, but to relax and have some fun. Eventually, they did.

I did Peanut Butter and Tutti Tah and then several Christmas sing-alongs. I got two seventh grade boys up on Tutti Tah, recognizing that they were having fun with it. It broke the spell for the older kids to have their fellow students up with me. They knocked it out.

I followed with The Cat Came Back and had one side sing to the other on the chorus, repeated the next chorus with the mirror effect (I gave the other side the choice of doing a golf cheer or a standing ovation. It didn’t work like I had hoped.) Then, at the end I had the teachers sing the chorus operatically. I invited some of the older kids to play Thunder Tubes on Giants in order to, again, bring in the older kids into the show. It worked well. Slowly I was gaining the trust of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders, though some remained in their shells.

At the end I did my Rudolph (antlers and noses) routine and finished with All Around the Kitchen. That remains a good dance closer, especially if I bring up kids from across the diversity of ages. Eventually, I brought up three teachers to bring it home.

Seeing how it was a half-day before Christmas break, I went on a little too long, but the energy was great at the end. As they left the gym, the principal came up and said that he remembers learning The Cat Came Back in summer camp and using it when he was a teacher. That was pretty cool.

It was a workout and I found myself soaked with sweat at the end. The PTA lady, Lisa, thanked me for a great show. Somehow I never quite accept the praise, knowing that I could have connected better with some of the kids.

Winter solstice with temperatures in the 60’s. But I was done by 11:15 am and home by noon. Not to bad for the last school gig (the Omega) in Alpha.

I was lucky that the second school was only a half-hour away, a 2 pm RockRoots in Whippany, NJ at Bee Meadow ES. Great name for a primary school. It was strange that it was for only 100 kids but, as I found out, it’s parent/teacher conference day so these kids were in the lunch room with a few teachers and aides, playing board games, etc. So, we were the baby-sitters for this group of kids today. Show time!

We set up on the floor with the K – 2nd graders on the floor and the 3, 4 and 5 graders at the lunchroom tables, an uncomfortable way for those kids to take in the show. It proved hard for them to maintain focus sitting perpendicular to the band. The kids were pretty talkative without their normal teachers in command and it was rather amazing that they didn’t know how to clap along. (??!!)

After awhile, we dropped into “play the show” mode and we rolled along, getting the kids up dancing and didn’t worry too much about the educational aspect. But, for this situation, it was for the best. The head teacher said we did a great job balancing the smarts with the movement and thanked us for the gig.

This is one of two Whippany gigs this week (snow on Thursday?) and I assume this will be another afternoon parent-teacher day-care type of gig. That’s okay and it’s good to know what we’re in store for. November gigs are scarce.

It was a long day but a productive one. Cold and grey on the road.