All entries filed under DF Residency

Gigs are far and few these days so I’m especially glad to have a four-week after-school residency at a South Side school – Donegan ES. I’ll do an hour of work/play and hopefully come up with a song about climate change. We’ll see.

The first session on Thursday was fairly scattered as an assembly was wrapping up in the gym, the site for my session. The coordinators were running around, getting snacks and shuffling the other groups off to class rooms. I got a corner in the gym.

My group is a posse of five 4th grade boys, a challenge unto itself. As it turns out, these boys are pretty bright and responsive. One boy speaks a minimum of English, so that will be my challenge for this session.

I started out with I Like Peanut Butter, talked about the guitar, We Gave Names to the Animals and introduced rhythm bag and the rain stick. Through out all this, we chatted, joked around and I got to know the kids better. A couple kids are especially bright and we enjoy our company.

The kids wanted to know if I knew any of the songs from the film Coco, especially Poco Loco. I said I’ll work it up for next week. And, upon reflection during a head-session early morning (trying to sleep), I thought it might be a good inspiration for our climate change songwriting challenge. We’re somewhat crazy to be using carbon-centric fuels when we have wind, sun and tidal technology.

I even had the Peter Gunn tune in my mind. Sheesh….

Who says I’m wasting my time asleep? I have my homework cut out for me.

I wrapped up my short residency at Lincoln Elementary today, and I got the feeling that we made some friends over the last four days. At the end, one girl said, “I miss you already.”

I brought out The Cat Came Back and I Wanna Be a Dog, a couple of old favorites that I haven’t done in a while, along with Magic Penny at the very end.

I also got three kids to lead the group with The Tutti Tah, and, as I had hoped, the kids had taken ownership of the process and I could become a side member of the group. Ms. Dieter said that it displayed Lincoln Leadership, a great term that the school uses.

I introduced the Rain Stick, as one teacher, Lisa Dieter, googled cactus plants. We had a good session listening to that sound, and, later on, we got to apply it to our rendition of Tropical Vacation as we passed it around and sang the tune. The kids really latched on to this song.

I introduced All Around the Kitchen, taught the kids the chorus, got them up to dance and away we went. The kids came up with The I Don’t Know, The Flamingo and couple of other quirky dances, and, with some prodding, got the kids to sing and dance at the same time, something I’m striving to work on – multiple intelligences stuff. The teachers came up with The Swim and the Knee Switch from the old Charleston days. A lively and engaged session.

At the end, kids came up to give me a hug (they had to ask first) and that was particularly sweet. I mentioned that I felt we were now good friends at this point, and I feel that is quite true. It was nice to do a residency over four consecutive days that made it easier to connect a flow of the material and interpersonal relationships with the kids and teachers.

I’m glad this opportunity popped up in the middle of a fairly slow summer. I learned to access, with the help of the teachers, Google and material on my thumb drive to add visuals. It’s still frustrating about the absence of CD players in the classroom, though.

My third session out of four at Lincoln Elementary today.

We started out by playing Tropical Vacation and I Like Peanut Butter from my first CD, and we talked about the instrumentation, the vocals and a little about working with other creative people on the album – the designers, the musicians and others. It probably went over their heads a little. This process reminds me about the tremendous loss these students and teachers suffer with the demise of portable music devices like the CD player. There’s no long access to vast amounts of music in this culture.

We led off with two other students leading Tutti Tah and there was a remarkable improvement on memorization and group support on the project. That was nice to witness. They are taking ownership of the process.

I brought a different guitar today and we discussed some of the differences, and talked about being in tune. I followed up with Skip To My Lou, and talked about folk songs, songs that go back in time and are still sung today. And many of the kids knew this one, to prove my point. I brought out my verse “I got ants in my pants and they’re making me dance”, and everyone got up to demonstrate. Another example of the easy and comfort we share with each other.

I introduced We Gave Names to the Animals while breaking out the instrument bag. It was a little chaotic, especially since I had hoped to work on structure of the lyrics, but so it goes. It was time to mix it up and put something in their hands. The kids came around to playing as a group, and also caught on with the structure of the song, picking up on the rhyming clues.

With ten minutes left, I hoped to write a verse to this song involving an octopus. Luckily, we had assembled a vocabulary and fact list about octopi earlier so we were able to get to work on the verse right away. We came up with:

“I saw an animal in a dark hole in the sea / It had eight tentacles and it squirted ink at me (at me?!) / It has a boneless body and it moves with a squoosh / I think I’ll call this animal an octopus.” We sang it several times to see if everything fit, and we agreed that it did. The teacher then showed the octopus image I brought in on a thumb drive. It was a good ending to the session.

One more day tomorrow, and we’ll see if I have a few more tricks up my sleeve.

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.


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.

This was the fourth and last visit to Donegan School and I figured we were just going to have some fun, and not concentrate on songwriting. I was glad, though, that I had a few tricks up my sleeve early on.

I started with Watermelon on the Vine and, when I suggested that watermelons once had seeds, the 5th graders didn’t know what I was talking about. We had a good time slurping along, though. A good ice-breaker.

I followed with The Bear Hunt, one that has been on the back-burner for the past year and a half. It worked well, even for the older kids (now that we know each other). We came up with new situations : Haunted Mansion, Spooky Circus and Rain Forest, each with sounds and motions. Good work.

I broke out the rhythm instruments for the first time and we sang our version of We Gave Names to the Animals, a good mix of singing and playing. I was glad that I waited til today to empty the sack out. I then brought out a bag of puppets and we sang Down By the Bay with the puppets doing the singing, using puppet voices and other good learning devices. The teachers enjoyed that work, as well.

We then cued up my video of Names and I got to watch it along with them and see their reaction. That was interesting. They were singing along to it and enjoying seeing my mentions of Donegan School as well as the pop-up pictures of the animals.

I think the sessions were successful and the 3rd grade teacher (who really earns her money with her group of highly active kids) said that my sessions were the best. That was a nice acknowledgement.

Tomorrow I’ll do a wrap-up with the other teaching artists and I’ll sing the Names song again, get my students up to sing the chorus with me, and then head on out to my CT farmers’ market gig in the afternoon.

Good work in my neighborhood.

I headed up 4th Street to Donegan for my third of four visits, armed with some good ideas to explore with the 5th, 4th, and 3rd graders. We’ve been working on Names to the Animals and I planned on presenting the verses we’ve written already and get three more from today. I plan on recording them in my kitchen studio and then sending the video back to the teachers for Monday. The teachers seem excited about having something to show to the kids, and I need to document our work for the project.

I decided to introduce my CDs to the kids, and talk about the various ways an artist like myself gets his music out. We talked about playing live, getting songs on You Tube and radio. (they had no concept of radio play…) I also talked about the art work that goes into producing a CD: photographers, designers, back-up musicians, etc. and I asked the teachers to find some way to get this music into their ears. No simple thing to do these days.

I started out with Tropical Vacation in order to get them to become my back-up singers. I taught them the chorus, had them invent hand motions to the words. I then got out my red sunglasses for three of the students to come up next to me to sing back-up, and brought out my rain stick for ocean sounds. It was a great way to put them on stage, take leadership roles, sing out loud and think about production. We then switched roles with the other students. I was able to involve the one student with little English skills to sit in on rain stick so that he had an active part in the process. The whole process was quite successful and full of energy.

I followed with Giants, using the Thunder Tubes and spooky noises. Good Clean Fun.

I then presented the Names to the Animals verses from last week and proceeded to write some new ones this week. We came up with:

I saw an animal in the Congo,

Sharp teeth, its butt is pink, that I know.

It’s an omnivore, it eats with its hands, no fork or spoon,

I’ll call this animal a Baboon.


I saw an animal high up in the sky,

A three-headed dragon that could fly,

It’s a Greek myth: it’s fire could fry ya.

I’ll call this animal a Hydra.


I saw a snake in the tropics down south,

It bites its prey with fangs in its mouth.

It slithers from tree to tree as it wanders

I think I’ll call this animal an Anaconda.

As in the last two weeks, I had great connections, conversations and respect from the 5th and 4th graders, but the last group, the 3rd graders lack focus and the social skills to remain seated for any amount of time. It seems to be a function of the last period of the morning, a summer session and the age group. I have to remind myself to be cool, but I do let them know that I’m disappointed in their behavior.

The time moved nicely and we got some good work and play in today. One more week.

Thursday rolls around and it’s back to Donegan School up the hill from me on Fourth Street. I love being only a mile from the school.

I decided to leave the rhythm bag at home and bring my mandolin. I started off with it, and explained its relationship to the violin and reviewed the physics of string vibrations. I then used it to do Down By the Bay and introduce some simple songwriting. We came up with a few good ones, and I encouraged the kids to draw pictures. We’ll see.


Did you ever see a camel styling in his sandals?

Did you ever see a piranha chomping on a pinata?

I launched into the more difficult work with We Gave Names to the Animals from there and both 5th and 4th grades did some good, focused work. The 3rd grade lands at the end of the morning, so that group really has trouble concentrating. Again, I asked for the kids to draw pix of their verse.

5th Grade excelled with this one:

I saw a reptile crawl out of the sea,

Black, brown, yellow, as colorful as can be.

It comes out of the water for a short time, not a lot’ll.

I’ll call this animal an axolotl.

I finished up with Jelly in the Dish with the scarves. It was a good idea to have everyone get up and dance at this point and it brought each session to a great finish. We did some reflections at the end, per usual, and the teachers really liked the rhyming work we did.

I have a week to figure out where to go from here. The time flew by again.



I headed up 4th Street to Donegan School for the first of four Thursday sessions with the kids in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. It was pretty hot so I appreciated the AC in the school. I was greated warmly at the front desk and given a mask since that’s the protocol for interaction with students. I found that it was hard to understand some of the kids – a new wrinkle for me.

I had my guitar and my bag of rhythm instruments with me and I was glad I didn’t dump the bag out with all the instruments. I simply brought out the rain stick and then just maracas. It was good to use the bag judiciously. I makes for more surprises iover the next few weeks.

I had three sessions today, starting with the 5th grade. There were about 10 kids in each room. The 5th graders were a good mix of intelligent kids, some curious and a few somewhat embarrassed to interact with this old white guy. But, I never let that slow me down. I worked out a set that I used for the two other sessions. It was fun to have adult conversations with the kids (and teachers), and brought that up with some of the teachers – how important it is not to talk down to the students.

Introduction of the Guitar, I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, I Wanna Be a Dog, introduction to the Rain Stick, introduction to maracas and rhythm patterns, We Gave Names to the Animals and PB&J (if I had time to kill).

Fifth grade was a little retiscent, fourth graders were all in, and third had scattered attention spans. Still, we got some heavy lifting done, I assigned the kids to check out an animal to write about for next time (We Gave Names) and also said that students will lead Tutti Tah next week (leadership). We also did some mental exercises with TT by reverse-engineering the order of the moves. The kids were fully engaged.

We did reflections at the end of each session and I also asked the teachers what they learned. In the fourth grade class, there were a couple of social workers whom I leaned on to take part in the session: Community, you know. Towards the end of one of the sessions, I told one woman to put her cell phone down, to her surprise. It was a curious situation but, hopefully, a learning experience for her. I’m so bad. (I did explain myself afterwards and she said no problem.) The teachers were totally engaged and appreciative.

The three hours went quickly and I felt that I had laid down some solid ground work for next week’s sessions. And I’m confident that I have plenty of room to expand on what I’ve done so far. I will get paid well for this residency, which is somewhat unsettling considering the lack of work over the last 18 months. I won’t know what to do with the money – oh, yeah. Car insurance. So it goes.

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


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.

This was my first return in two weeks to the two schools with summer slide programs. I wanted to see what material lasted over the two weeks, and to check to see if the teachers had done their homework. Questionable results, but, then again, it’s the summer. (I do have use this blog to take notes for myself when I prepare for the next session.)

Marvine: They remembered Peanut  Butter and Jelly so I got a couple boys and girls to come up with me and take the lead in the song, a good way take the process a little deeper. I did the Cat Came Back for the first time, and it was a good way to simply play (cat paws, meows and other explorations). Down By The Bay came up with “Wolf taking  belly flop in the gulf”, ‘megadon shark chomping on bark’, ‘lion flying and crying’. We worked on All Around the Kitchen and did swell jump, orange justice, ballet, and, of course, the floss.

Fountain Hill had the same agenda. Down By the Bay: ‘horse chewing squishy s’mores’, ‘bull dog doing back flips with a tree frog’. All Around the Kitchen: floss, orange justice, the shrike, tuck jump, spin… Again, at the end I questioned the teachers about what they liked: motor skills, descriptive language, fun.

What I found out at this session is that the teachers don’t know how to use my music in my absence. CDs can’t be used, and, even though I gave our thumb drives of some of my music, their new computers don’t have thumb drive capabilities. This is a pretty radical change in any musician’s ability to get the music out to a young audience. Incredible. We are working on finding some way for this to happen, some kind of player in the classroom. I’m glad I brought it up to the attention of the summer program’s coordinators. It’s important.

I’ll be going back next Tuesday so I expect that there will be more retention.



Tuesday was the first installment of this summer slide program at Fountain Hill and Marvine schools. Both sites have kids from several other schools so it is a polyglot of kids. The Marvine set at 9:30 had about 25 kids, some of whom I’ve worked with at Marvine last fall. It was interesting to see how some of them jumped in right away, comfortable with me, but also how one boy still had the issues that made him a real challenge before. That was a disappointment.

Marvine ES

I hit Marvine at 9:30 and immediately head to Fountain Hill for a 10:45 session. The time does go by quickly.

The effort with this session is to partner with the teachers more intentionally. I was able to meet ahead of time to explain what I want to do, involve them in the process and have them work with the kids while I’m not meeting with them. I gave the teachers a thumb drive of some of my songs to use (now that CDs are no longer a useful tool in the classroom). I asked them to work on Down By the Bay rhyming exercises, using Tutti Tah as a class warm-up and to see if kids can memorize the moves and perhaps find classroom leaders for it.

We worked on reverse-memory of the Tutti Tah moves, to think backwards and see if that helps retention. It was a good way to see who is engaged and who comes out of their shells. I got lots of feedback.

We did Bear Hunt and I hope to have the kids come up with new situations, sounds and movements. Marvine came up with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and asked if the teachers could research his Moonwalk as a dance move. We played around with that for awhile. I made a point to take time at the end to reflect with the kids about what we had done. I should have asked the teachers to comment about what they liked. We have scheduled artist/teachers chats as we move through the month.

Fountain Hill ES

It’s important that the main idea for these sessions is to have fun so that the kids want to come to summer school for more. One teacher said that I was her favorite part of the sessions. We do have to prepare for a final “show” at the end of July so that the parents can see the energy and for us to document our efforts so that we can maintain and grow our funding sources (United Way is our benefactor for this series).

I’m off until two weeks from today. We’ll see what the kids retained when I return.

I have a old relationship with this nice rural school outside of Easton. I’ve done assemblies there in the past and even another songwriting day in the 90’s. Mrs. Ferraro, one of the third grade teachers, was looking for applying a local arts-education grant towards something different and contacted me to see if I could do my residency. You bet. My residency work has dropped off considerably since the 2008 financial collapse, so I was excited to oblige.

We lined up the four classes in the third grade with an ending session in the gym at the end of the school day. I decided to use my Down By the Bay as a way to break the ice, work on simple rhymes and still get three verses out of each class. I then decided to work The Cat Came Back as a template and I thought we’d be able to generate a good verse with each class as well. It proved a good method.

I had fifty minutes per class and, amazingly, things rolled along nicely. The kids were engaged as I tried to pass around the lead to everyone in the class, including the quiet ones. The kids came up with some interesting scenarios for the Cat Came Back, we collaborated on ideas, I would lead, prod and suggest, and, as always, we got the job done. We edited, practiced, got up and sang.

I also suggested that the kids do ‘album covers’ of their song, and I look forward to putting them together with the song in a movie/power point production and give it back to them and the school. Thankfully, teachers were taking pictures that can be added to the final product.

I gave each class my Playground CD and I found out that none of the classrooms have a CD player, and that if the kids had any chance of listening to my music, there would have to be some kind of technical transfer. Amazing how things have changed.

I learned a couple things. During the last session, it dawned on me that the cat could be a female. (duh…) so we changed the lyrics to reflect that. This is a product from some recent TA training sessions.

As I started one session, I asked the teacher to play my CD for the kids. I was baffled that there was no system to do that. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding. I suggested that the teacher figure it out, in my rather abrupt manner. The teacher pulled me out to the hall and said that I had no right to dictate what happens in that classroom. I was humbled and agreed not to do it again. I walked back into the class, tried to mentally regroup and start the work with the kids. As it turns out, the teacher thought that I implied solving the CD problem immediately. I had meant for the teachers to do it after I had left, with no time pressure. I should have made that clear and I came off somewhat arrogant.

As it turns out, at the end of this particular session, I apologized to the teacher, who, having seen me work with the kids, knew that I meant no wrong, and then apologized to me. But, I learned an important lesson that, as a teaching artist, I enter into the teacher’s space and should be respectful of that. I seemed to steamroll my way into the process, knowing I have to produce a quality, creative experience with a final product at the end of the period. Interesting situation that will make both of us aware of how we react.

The final session in the gym was great. As the teachers and the principal looked on, each class came up and performed their Down by the Bay and Cat Came Back verses. I insisted that the other classes give their classmates a standing ovation. Each group did their own Super Star at the end. Towards the end, I had several kids stand up and say what they learned in the process and then asked the teachers to do the same. It was a great way to reflect, as a group, on what we had down together. I said that I felt that I was now part of their community, and that’s what mattered most to me.

At the very end, I played some rock and roll and got the kids to get up and dance. It was a good way to let go some of the steam and finish on a physical note.

The Cat Came Back 

The cat went to the Tracy Invention Convention.

There was a portal to another dimension,

Where the cats have pets: human and canine,

It was only a cat nap; he was no Einstein.


Mr. Bonilla and the tiger-cat were playing in the mud,

They needed a bath to get rid of the crud.

They went to Palmer Pool and did a cannonball,

Hissing, scratching; you could hear it in the mall.


Beyoncé and the cat went out on a Friday night,

They got Uber limo, looking for a lite bite.

The cat wanted sushi, Beyoncé fish fillet

They got anchovy pizza, went to the ballet.


Third grade asked the cat to lunch in the Courtyard,

Pizza, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, all dipped in lard.

The cat thought it disgusting, she was quite impolite,

She tossed a chicken nugget, started an epic food fight.


Down By the Bay: 

Jaguar conducting a choir.

Shark glowing in the dark.

Jackrabbit having a quack habit.

Giraffe wrestling with math.

Hippo worming the limbo.

Monkey flossing real funky.

Crocodile with a freaky, creepy smile.

Unicorn with a foghorn.

Puffer fish doing a jig like he’s Irish.

Armadillo chomping on a pillow.

Penguin doing the macarena and tangoing.

Blue Jay with a May birthday.

I headed back to Marvine ES for my second session with my 5th grade class. They had just gotten back from a field trip so they were pretty rammy on a Friday afternoon. We launched into review our two verses and I decided to add some movement to them and we came up with some cool stuff, dance moves, etc. Rather than push ahead with completing another five new verses, I figured that this type of engagement works just as well.

We did knuckled down to write another verse to We Gave Names to the Animals and we decided to do one on a warthog. I did my homework and looked up some fun facts. We came up with another good one.

I saw an animal with four boney tusks,

It has a disgusting snout and a stinky musk.

I think I’ll call this animal a wart hog.

Living the life wallowing in the dark bog,

Next week, I have a Wednesday session with the kids and we perform on Thursday, opening for their school’s production of The Lion King. These kids are chatty but, for the most part, are creative and fun. I’m having a blast working with them.