All entries filed under Summer Slide

I returned to a nice daycare center on the northside of Bethlehem for three sets: K and 1st, toddlers, and the older kids. Each set provides its own challenges. We were on the lawn on the side of the school, made in the shade on a hot day.

The first set with the K’s and 1st graders is always a gas.  The K’s are still adjusting socially, so they don’t really know how to sing along, but the 1st graders are ready to rock. The toddlers are there to observe, so I play to the teachers, and they get it. The older kids gave me something extra to work on today.

I always learn something from every gig, and I stumbled upon an interesting way to engage the tweeners at a kids’ assembly. The older kids don’t like to be played down to, while the younger kids are ready for anything. Today, I started out not playing guitar and talked about body sounds. I started out with my hands routine, different ways of snapping, rubbing, clapping. I expanded that to knee slaps, mouth music, and others. I then invited one of the older girls to come up and lead the “orchestra” and she launched right in with a great variety of claps, rhythms and more. She took charge and everyone followed along. I asked an older boy to come up, and sure enough, he responded with a great set of sounds and rhythms – mostly call-and-response – including the ole under the arm pit fart sound. Classic!

I took some time to point out what had just happened – the creativity, the spontaneity, the leadership involved. I gave up my role and became a participant. The teachers were surprised as well.

As always, at the end of each session, I asked what the kids liked (Tutti Tah, Peanut Butter, Giants) and then asked the teachers what they like best. Those responses are really enlightening for me and I think valuable for them as well.

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.

It’s been two years since I played this day care center in North Bethlehem and it was good to see some familiar faces, both kids and teachers. We decided to play on the playground in the back, in spite of the hazy, smokey atmosphere outside. Strange days. I was signed up for three sessions: 3rd – 5th graders, toddlers and then K-2nd. As always, an interesting span of ages and abilities to play for.

I was greeted by Norma Ocasio, a teacher I had worked with in the PASELA project 10 years ago. It was great to see her and know that we are still doing what we do.

The older kids were first, and right away, the older boys were less than enthused. I leaned on them early and, eventually got them up for the thunder-tube session, which worked well and brought them into the fold. Tutti Tah, I Like Peanut Butter, I Wanna Be a Dog, We Gave Names (with rhythm instr.) and Jelly in the Dish (with scarves). I did this set with the third group.

The second group was the toddlers, and it was a much more difficult group to deal with. We did simpler songs like Old MacDonald, Spider on the Floor, Down By the Bay, but still got out the scarves and instruments for some general playtime. There’s not much in the way of feedback, but that’s not the point for this age. We had fun.

I had three good sessions, but I found my voice was running a little ragged at the end, perhaps due to the atmosphere and three hours of singing out loud. I made sure the teachers got copies of my CDs to use in the classrooms, and the teachers loved the work.

I’m satisfied, and it’s nice to go to the bank right after the gig and deposit a check.


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.

I’m glad I have a gig relatively soon after Musikfest. Today was at a North Bethlehem Day Care Center with three sessions. The first was for about 40 preschoolers with three different ages. The older kids were hip while the two younger groups struggled with singing along and other skills. I made the mistake of setting up in the play area next to the recently emptied dumpster. I broke out the bag of instruments towards the end. The kids were great and the teachers really enjoyed what I did. I learned my dumpster lesson, though.

The second set was for the toddlers (two years old and under) over in the rubberized surface of the toddler play area. It was much more pleasant but a tougher audience. Only two kids were completely engaged but the others were well behaved and took it all in and the teachers helped out, as well. I got out the scarves for this one and that was a good move. Lots of dancing and colors.

The last group were the older kids and it had some challenges of its own. The older girls were not going to join in and two of the older kids were bullying another subdued boy in the back. But, eventually, most of the kids came around thanks to Giant (and the Thunder Tubes) and conversation about their conception of a giant. This is the second time I’ve taken time out of playing music and simply chatting with the kids. It made a big difference. I opened up the bag of instruments for this one and it did the trick, as well. At the end, I opened up the reflection with questions about my vocation as an artist. That worked well, too, and I think the teachers appreciated the conversation. It doesn’t always have to be music up front.

Three sets was a good chunk of work but it gave me the opportunity to work on three different age groups and the skills I need to work on, especially the toddlers. I haven’t done this age in a while.

It was a good payday, it was local and it felt good to motivate on a Wednesday morning.

I’m hoping the kids will do some drawings and pictures. I will share them as I get them in.

Marvine ES

Fountain Hill ES

These shows were the culmination of South Side Children’s Festival (Doug Roysdon’s umbrella organization for summer schools) at Marvine (9:30) and Fountain Hill (11:00). Allentown Public Theater (Deirdre Van Walters and Andrea Hunt-Castillo) and Mark and his son Aiden McKenna had worked with separate groups on projects so we got to present a slice of what we did with the parents. It’s part of the effort to broaden the scope of the work into the greater community.

Aiden started out with the K group and their work on Billy Goats Gruff. At Marvine, there were only two kids but they served up some good moments. Fountain Hill had a larger group of kids, and, it the spacious gym, some of the moments got lost. But, still, if your kid is in the production, that’s all that matters. Deirdre and Andrea did a song about what you want to be when you grow up, where each child held up a sign with “cop”, “teacher”, etc. There were quite a few kids at both schools and the process took a long time to get through, and, at Marvine, they stretched it out to include participation prizes, doing the same process into the microphone and ate up a lot of time. I was surprised that theater folks didn’t have a better grip on those production values. But, everyone got their time on stage in front of the parents. That’s okay.

I was to be the grand finale for both shows but I knew I had to be crisper in my production. I had decided on The Cat Came Back (it resonated with the kids over the 6 week session) and go directly into their verses to Down by the Bay. I did an opening verse of The Cat Came Back and let the kids sing the chorus by themselves. That was really effective because they grabbed it and nailed it. I went into Down My the Bay and they all sang wonderfully. At the end, I asked for a Super Star, and that really surprised the audience when they did it. Strong performances on their part.

I wanted to finish with some dancing so, at Marvine, I opened up the scarves and tossed them out to all three groups of kids and did Jimalong Josie. It was a delightful display of color and movement and was a perfect way to bring the show to a close.

At Fountain Hill, one of my kids asked if we could do Little Sally Walker so I took a gamble with the time to invite the teachers and my group of kids up to do it. They all did a great job and it was a great example of the work that the teachers and I did over the summer. I wanted to get out the scarves for a big finale and trusted myself to go a little longer for my set. Again, it was a riot of kids, colors and movement that, I think, captured the energy of the overall project.

There was a moment at the end as I sat packing up in a now deserted gym where I felt exhausted and somewhat hollow after this long project. I had to let go with little but some memories, a general feeling of accomplishment and a nice check in a week or so.

I returned to the Paley Early Childhood Center where RockRoots had played a couple of weeks ago for the older kids. This group was the 4, 5 and 6 year-olds and we were in the gym for two sets.

The groups were about 60 or so with 10 teachers so I gambled that I could do it unplugged, with mixed success. It was particularly loud in the room and actually had to stop the first show early on to go over and ask a couple of teachers not to converse while I was playing. Major sound distraction. But, they complied.

The sessions were fun, but a little scattered due to the young ages. But the kids hung in there and we had a good time. Five Little Monkeys was a good opener, immediately engaging the kids, though it descended into loud shouting. I was willing to put up with that in order to win them over early. Tutti Tah, We Gave Names, Bear Hunt, Peanut Butter and Jelly, I Wanna Be a Dog, and a final chaotic dance tune with the bag of instruments (first set) and scarves (second set).

I still have a hard time winning over some of the younger African-American teachers, some of whom rarely smile while I’m performing. I can’t always figure it out but I gotta do what I do and hope that they respect me for that.

During the first set, one young boy melted down into a loud crying fit and sat in the back with a couple of teachers. He never came out of it and I had to deal with this deafening sound for the last half hour of the set. The acoustics of this gym were incredibly horrible, between the idle chatter and the screaming kid, I was spent at the end of the two sets.

I was glad to finish up and head home. Still, a good gig.

I headed over to Marvine for my last Tuesday before Friday’s big finale. I wanted to see what was still fresh for the kids, add a new Down By the Bay verse and continue on working on kids’ leadership.

The Cat Came Back seems to have really sunk in so we did that right off the bat. Looks like we should sing this on Friday along with our Down By the Bay lyrics.

I introduced Sally Go Round the Sun as a new circle dance and it was a good, get-up-and-move song. The kids did alright but there’s always the boys’ slam-dance motivation, so I had to work on that. We did a reprise of Little Sally Walker dance and the kids responded nicely. We took some time to work on learning and singing the whole song, though. That’s one of the check-marks for me with these sessions. Kids love to dance but often can’t sing and dance at the same time.

We came up with “Giraffe doing a Craft and started to Laugh” and we’ll add it to the song for Friday.

The kids wanted to do Bear Hunt, so we did, but I asked a young girl to come and sit next to me to lead this one. I had to prompt her at first but she came around to lead nicely, including “We’re not afraid” (we went with that) and she did a great ‘scream’ after that, to the amusement of the teachers and the kids. It was great to play off of.

We finished with Jimalong Joe with instruments from the bag. I think I’ll use scarves for Friday though.

I headed over to Fountain Hill and found them doing an event in the gym. Seems Marvine expected me and Fountain Hill didn’t. That’s okay. I got the rest of the morning off.

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.

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.



It was the first day of summer school in Allentown and, amazingly, I was approached by three different schools to play for the kids. These are all schools I played for last year, as part of a district-wide tour, so it was nice to have these folks reconnect with me this year.

The first session was at 10 am at Jefferson and it was for about thirty kids, K – 5th grade. The second school was at 12:15 at Jackson for the incoming K’s and the third was at Ritter for the general K – 5th graders. Each group had it’s peculiarities with the K – 5’s spanning the little kids with the ‘mature’ kids, so I had to gauge the material appropriately. The K’s were pretty homogeneous, so that was a bit easier. Those kids still lacked some social skills, this being their first day in a school situation. There were some runners, some kids uncomfortable but, all in all, they were a great group to play for.

Each session ended with my conversation of “what happened”, my way of trying to get the kids to reflect on the songs, the singing, the dancing, the playing of instruments, so that there would be some retention. At the last one at Ritter, I followed up with asking the teachers what happened, to let the kids hear what the adults observed. There were some great comments: We had fun, we could get silly, we played as a group….. It was nice to hear that those things are important, especially with so much “seriousness” in our community.

I am glad that I got to be part of their first day at summer school, create a little community for the kids and teachers right off the bat and establish some connections that might last for the next few weeks.

It was a long but productive day.

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.

An interesting day as I wrapped up my 12 Allentown schools for the summer with a 9 am set for the Dodd ES kids and a 10:30 set at Jefferson ES.

The Dodd show was in a small gym with an incredible echo and I used that to center the kids on the first song I Like Peanut Butter. It was a creative bunch of kids, for the most part but the several kids were pulled out at a time (testing?) over the set so those kids had to reset when they came back. They came up with a good Bear Hunt (Chucky Cheese – yelling and screaming – (hmmm, “pizza!”, munch, gulp!) verse and the All Around the Kitchen was again a great vehicle to finish out the show.

There was a telling situation during the session. The teachers were rather chatty off to the side while I was playing. I noticed that the kids and myself were distracted a little, so I asked the teachers to be quiet. They settled in, but, as I looked over shortly thereafter, I noticed they all had dived into their cell phones. Nuts. Not involved with the process.

I headed over to Jefferson ES, a more inner city school and there were more teachers and they remained a part of the action. Again, these kids were engaged and responsive. I noticed several young ones were not as involved as I would like, but during the show, they had moments of participation which I celebrated with the teachers.

As I found out later, some of these kids were pre-K kids, heading into their first year of school in September. The teacher was pleased that the kids were getting this experience as an initiation to learning how to listen, follow instructions and have some fun, too. That was a valuable reflection for me.

The Bear Hunt was fun: The Pool – wet and slippery – (swim “splash”, go underwater “blub, blub”, “dinosaur in the pool!” splash, splash). One young lad had been insistent on adding “dinosaur” to anything I was doing so this was a great time to add a dinosaur to the proceedings. It was a nice nod to his creativity and the other kids loved it.

This was one of the better sessions I’ve done, thanks to the kids and teachers. I told them so.

The whole series was a chance for me to work on some techniques – especially with  recurring themes (Bear Hunt, All Around the Kitchen), the opportunity to pass these songs around the larger school district community (the teachers loved this idea) and the reflection time at the end of each show – a chance to have the kids take time to think about what we did. That’s really important – something I do with these blogs. It’s how we re enforce what we do as learning, creative beings.

Today was the culmination of a month’s work in Marvine (three schools) and Fountain Hill (another three schools) with Allentown Public Theater and Mark and Aiden McKenna’s efforts in front of the schools’ communities. Importantly, this was the chance to document our work for United Way (the funders) and the schools themselves. We made sure that the video cameras were working.

The first one was at Marvine. I led off with The Bear Hunt and some of the school’s verses. I had the all of the kids sit up front and did a fine job. The parents ate it up, the kids were into it and there were many great moments. Mark and Aiden did Billy Goats Gruff with large props, their narration with the kids’ voices chiming in. The large scope and the ‘on stage’ situation worked well. APT followed with a selection from a book, as they acted out the story. I supplied some funky guitar for the end. I finished with All Around the Kitchen with their dances and decided on the fly just to ask the kids there to come up with their moves. Visually, it was great, with APT folks coming up and dancing with the kids.

The second show was at Fountain Hill in the cavernous gym. There was a much bigger turnout for this one, with parents and siblings sitting on the bleachers. It was the same routine and the effect was wonderful, especially with a larger group of kids. Both The Bear Hunt and All Around the Kitchen were smashes with parents filming the whole thing. Many, many delightful moments.

The Fountain Hill kids came up with a Red Tornado for their Bear Hunt addition and before the show, one of the teachers came up with a finger-painting of a red tornado. Again, exactly the response that a Teaching Artist wants: to expand the music into visual arts, movement and more. Multiple intelligences!

My fellow artists thanked me for my work today with Mark saying that it was great that I opened and closed the show. Frankly, I agree. Great connection with the kids and audience, wonderful energy and visuals and a sense of community at both venues. It’s what I do so I’m not aware of it when I’m in the moment.

Doug Roysdon emceed the affair and connected the dots, saying it was important that the teachers, the kids, the artists, the school district and the parents really came together to make this a success. This was the proof of what we are trying to do and we pulled it off wonderfully.

There’s lots to unpack in this month-long session and the three organizations hope to distill it at our monthly TA of LV meeting in August. Good work in the community.

Today was a curious tour with a 9 am session in West Allentown at Muhlenberg ES and then back downtown at Washington ES for a 10:30 am gig.

I’ve played Muhlenberg many times and the school has had a reputation for an appreciation for the arts, reflecting the relative upper middle class neighborhood. The kids were waiting when I got there (on time!) and I started with I Like Peanut Butter and I was taken aback with the lack of energy in the group, especially the older kids. Not interested…. I spent some time explaining what I do and how I do it, and that the kids should be willing to take a chance.

It was consistently sluggish throughout the get-together and I made a mental note to back off a little. They did come up with a good Bear Hunt verse: an Iron Pigs game, a loud, crowded Iron Pigs game. Crack of the bat, “It’s Outta Here!” and a loud cheering sound. That was the most response I got from them.

We ended with All Around the Kitchen and the kids and teachers came up with some new moves: The Macarena, Do Ce Do, Wiggle Worm and the Hoppy, Hoppy Hoppy. Again, it was a good finish though there were kids who didn’t move.

During the reflection time, I commented that I had to just shut up about the inaction, when one teacher said, “Don’t. The kids have to hear it from someone like you.” That was a surprise! Later on, I thought that it’s a cultural flaw, and one that can be traced to the parents hands-off child rearing, with screens and devices (non-active) being prevalent in the home. Just a thought.

I headed into the inner city of Allentown for a group of kids in Washington ES. What a difference. Though there were some non-active kids, for the most part, these kids were sharp (some even said they liked math). The older kids were engaged and I leaned on the teachers to get involved as well.

The Bear Hunt addition was cool: The Bermuda Triangle, dangerous, mysterious Bermuda Triangle. We made our arms into plane wings, motor sounds and then “poof” and silence. I liked this one. I’ve been doing some discussion before Giants to have them construct an imaginary Giant and the conversation is fun. All Around the Kitchen brought out the regular Floss, Hype but new ones included Running Man, the Mate and the Fresh.

These kids were great and it was a treat to work with them. They pulled me out of a creative funk. My next Allentown sessions are on Monday. Ten down, four to go.

Today was another good day, this time in inner city Allentown: Central and Cleveland Schools. Again, traffic was snarled on Rt. 22 and I had to invent my passage into town. The folks were waiting for me at Central, including another teacher who was a fan. She said she shares my music with her kindergarten kids on a daily basis, especially I’m Gonna Tell. I got it going promptly shortly after 9 am.

There were more parents and teachers at this one and I had a great time playing off of them, encouraging them to dance and the energy flowed between them, the kids and myself. That’s why I aim for the adults, too. One enthusiastic woman came up at the end who plays for the kids, teaches pre-K and raved about what I did. The kindergarten teacher said she would share my CDs with her. Great!

These kids came up with the Bear Hunt entry of Dorney Park, Wildwater Kingdom and we did a cool trip down the water slide and a big splash at the end. I also added some dance moves from the teachers at the end: The Twist, The Shopping Cart and the Fishing Pole. Very spontaneous and creative on their part.

At the end, I try to have the kids reflect on what we did but I also ask the teachers to what they liked. That is perhaps the most valuable feedback.

I headed off to Cleveland ES, a school only a few blocks away for my 10:30 session. I’ve played this school many times with my friend and former Cleveland teacher John Christie. It’s a small neighborhood school in the inner city and, again a mix of bilingual, Latino, Black and white kids.

We were in the small cafeteria in the basement (I know it well) and the kids settled in. There were more older boys in mix, and I had to adjust accordingly. I cut out some of the ‘kiddie stuff’ and did some more ‘adult’ conversation. I focused on Giants, for some reason, and we imagined what a giant would look like. The chat was pretty lively and I admitted that they scared me. Sometimes the dialogue is as important as the music.

Some of the older boys were hard to break down and though they aren’t any trouble, they simply refuse to participate, as if it’s below their interest. This is the hardest part of some of these gigs: to try to encourage, explain why I do what I do, and not get personal. I don’t always do it right. But I have some tools in my gig bag (Thunder Tubes!) that have some effect.

For Bear Hunt, these kids came up with a haunted Tree House, with a rope ladder, bats zipping past and creepy vines growing up on us. Very creative and still somewhat macabre. All Around the Kitchen was a riot and the teachers were taken by surprise when I asked them for their dances. But, they stepped up, as expected. The teachers said they enjoyed my wackiness, the interaction and the movement.

These summer sessions are turning out to be quite productive for me, and the schools, as well.

I have three consecutive days in Allentown this week with two Allentown schools on Monday: center city Sheridan and East side Ritter, both somewhat different.

The Sheridan gig was in the gym with a fairly large audience. I got there nick ‘o time with the Tilghman Street bridge out of commission. They were waiting for me so I settled in quickly and launched into Peanut Butter, a good ice-breaker. I can usually tell right away who the tough-sell kids are, usually the older kids. It’s my job to reel them in and usually do. One teacher was a big fan (as is often the case) and she made me feel welcome.

The Ritter gig was on the East side of town, more residencial (but ’50s and 60’s houses) but still a mix of Latino, Black and some whites. Again, this was a larger crowd, so I set up in a corner of the warm lunch room and away we go…..

I’m trying to add the kids’ Bear Hunt verses and Ritter came up with a good one, the local high school Dieruff, which probably is quite a daunting structure for elementary schools kids. I had to struggle to make it approachable for these kids so we did an echoing “hello” as we entered and then headed upstairs for pizza in the high school cafeteria. You just go with the flow sometimes. All Around the Kitchen worked well as a closer and some of the more recalcitrant kids got involved.

One young girl sat off to the side, her face in her hands, occasionally looking up but never smiling or reacting. I have to learn to observe and not comment. I have no idea what is going on in her life and I have to respect that.


Marvine’s session was my third with these kids and they are stoked when they come in. I decided to keep the scarves and instruments at home today and concentrate on some dance tunes. I started off with Sally Goes Round the Sun, a very simple circle dance with a big ‘whoop!” at the end. I knew the kids would get the whoop and hoped they would pick up the singing. Not so much, and part of what I learned today.

We did Little Sally Walker, a more involved circle song, with a progressive device that starts out with one kid in the middle, and as the song goes on, more and more kids get selected to go in the middle. It’s got a great movement chorus and they tend to pick up on that readily.

We worked on our Bear Hunt verses with the new ones added. It’s turning out well, if I can only remember them all. Good fodder for future gigs.

We finished with All Around the Kitchen, adding their dance moves to the performance. Again, it’s a great vehicle for individual dance with lots of freedom.

I headed over to Fountain Hill ES for the second session at 10:30 am. They weren’t quite ready for me (such is the state of summer schools) but they eventually gathered in the gym, again with lots of waves and hellos. These visits are especially gratifying due to the ability to return to the same kids over the course of a month.

I did the same progression of the Sally dances, Bear Hunt and All Around the Kitchen but with a much larger group of kids and a bigger space. That provided some challenges in itself (crowd control) but was a better performance piece. I felt pleased that I could do a whole session of highly active and interactive movement pieces.

What I learned: As I expected, it’s hard for this 1st grade group to sing and dance at the same time, but that’s why I try it out with them. I’m not worried that they can’t do it; I just want them to experience it for the first time. They really aren’t able to learn and sing a whole song yet, especially with all the other things I throw at them.  I have to deal with the social challenges of mixing boys and girls – holding hands in a circle (not too bad, really, at this age). I don’t think these kids have been exposed to communal dance yet, and even making a dance circle is a new concept. And culturally speaking, this seems to be quite radical, and thereby groundbreaking for these schools. There is a nice difference between the Kitchen dances (solo) and the Sally songs (circle/social) that there is a richness in the diversity. Lots going on and good information for me as a performer and teaching artist.

But, as I expected, the whole morning passed quickly and we all enjoyed ourselves, including the teachers. I hope some of these exercises pass on to them. I love what I do.