All entries filed under Teaching Artist

This was the second Wilmington Park gig of the summer for me so I had some peace of mind as to what to expect. Heading out with time to spare, I was surprised when, on the Blue Route south, my GPS’s estimate of arrival time jumped 45 minutes to exactly 11:00 am, my start time. Sure enough, as I got to about 22 miles away, things began to crawl. I called ahead to Sid, my trusted liaison, to let him know I’d be there “nick ‘o time”. Sure enough, I pulled up to the park exactly at 11 am.

Mack Park

Sid had things ready for me to plug in, under a nice tree, while a group of kids and counsellors were gathering not far away. As I was ready to begin, that group got up and walked away towards a different part of the park, leaving me with a dad and his two kids. (They were at the last gig, too. Cool.)

So, I set in with the four of us. Eventually, another group moved into the park and I invited them over but only five or so girls came over from that group. (Apparently, the rest of the group was being disciplined. Sheesh).

It was a scattered beginning to the gig for me, so I opened up the bag, invited the girls to grab and instrument and play. Eventually, I jettisoned the mike and amp and simple worked with the kids in front of me. One particular girl was all in, and was a delight to work with. As I did Jelly in the Dish, she picked up on the idea, and started making it about being on the beach. It was a pretty creative avenue, so we took off on that, making a day on the beach sounds. I could use this down the line.

Things were scattered on my part, and as we neared the end of the hour, a few kids headed off to the water spray part of the park, and I wrapped things up early, not with a bang but a whimper. Sid and I packed our stuff up, as Sid smoked the joint I found next to my amp.

The travel home was quick and direct, but I felt that I hadn’t done my best on this one. I’ll feel better when the pay drops in my bank account mid-month.

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 a pretty big deal for me in my strange but not-so-little world as an arts educator. The folk world knows that I been playing for kids for thirty plus years, but few have had the chance to see me do it, nor do they realize the creative challenge of doing what I do. It’s not part of the folk scene, but I play for thousands of people every year and that counts for something. This was one of those moments that counted for me.

I was nominated by my friends at Young Audiences of NJ and E. PA, a booking group I’ve been with since 1991. They were the first to book RockRoots early on, and have been the major consistent source of income for me (and my family) for thirty years, and have been instrumental in my development as a Teaching Artist. Lots of diverse performance possibilities and situations, as well as numerous high-level workshops with fellow TA’s over many years.

I was part of a roster of YANJ awardees, along with fellow TA’s Mary Knysh, Erik James Montgomery, David Gonzalez, booking pro Carol Hunt and a few corporate supporters. Waiting for things to begin, I was able to connect with Mary, a world music specialist from Bloomsburg. We both know Rand Whipple who’s from that town and travelled with me and Touchstone in Mexico in the early 80’s. Deep roots, again.

We finally we allowed in to the hall, and I found that my assigned set was an empty space. That was disconcerting, but didn’t matter a great deal. Lots of seats. I sat next to a principal being honored for Distinguished Service in Theater Education and we struck up another fine conversation about my high school theater experiences, financial support for the arts in schools. She said she had to leave early since the Prom was that night. I said I hope she gets a corsage.

So, the Young Audiences roster came up, and then my name. I hopped up on the stage to make the long walk across and I did a little dance for about four beats and the audience ignited. (not much spontaneity from the awardees so far.) I acknowledged the audiences response, and while getting my photo with the proclamation, I looked at it and said, “Paper,” again tickling the crowd. Curious and spontaneous but I got several compliments from folks later on. How little it takes, and how unconscious I am about being on stage to engage an audience.

The rest of the program featured many very talented high schoolers in Debate, Art, Music, Theater with some very nice short pieces and lots of awards. It was great to see the next generation of performers, and the salute to their talents was fine to see.

I drove off to a YANJ reception at a restaurant near Princeton for some wine and pretty good snacks. As we stood around, I picked up conversations and congratulations with many of the YANJ staff, many of whom I go back decades with. It was cool that when I walked into the small reception room, I got some applause and thanks for my impromptu dance. Funny that it rung a bell with the arts folks.

After an hour of standing around drinking my ginger ale and inhaling the tasty hors d’oeuvres, I headed out home, thanking every one for this honor. I looked forward to a crisp hour and a half drive through the Jersey landscape. It ended up being three hours, with some navigation errors on my part and a large accident on Rt 78. I arrived home after 11:30 exhausted. Still, a great day for me.

 

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 friend, Amy Forsyth, runs an instrument design class for Lehigh students, and invites me for the final display and critique of the class’s projects. I did this several years ago in the basement of one of the buildings on campus, but this year, they’ve moved up to a spacious lab on the Mountain Top Campus.

Amy invited my pal Russ Rentler up, to join in on some jamming and commentary. We were out on the lawn this afternoon in temperate climes. As the students demonstrated their works, we talked about what worked and what didn’t, and I was able to add some folk history and context to some similar instruments, noting that colorful instruments helped the joy of community music in many culture.

Students, Russ and myself.

The students’ work was inspired and the fact that Lehigh even has such a course for non-musical students is quite amazing. Amy is amazing as well.

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

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

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

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

Taking that wind, put it in a battery.

Turning that wind power into cheap energy.

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

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

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

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

2. Like a dragon flying through the trees,

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

Yellow, Red and Orange in a wild salsa dance,

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Windy Brezz

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

I’m made of carbon / So are you.

Carbon is in the air / It’s CO2.

Makes a monster hurricane / makes a monster drought.

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

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

Mini Brezz

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

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

Aliey Brezz

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

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

This is hard work.

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

Climate Change. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great start.

I was pleased to hear that I will be awarded  for  Distinguished Service NJ Governor’s Award by YANJ. “This award is dedicated to folks with a deep dedication to the work of teaching artistry, and you were an easy choice to receive the honor this year.”

I’ll be headed to the award ceremony in Trenton at the War Memorial Arena on Thursday, May 26th. Cool.

Since 1980, this ceremony has highlighted and recognized the outstanding arts achievements of student and educators in New Jersey.  Award recipients are selected on the basis of criteria established by various sponsoring organizations.

Governor’s arts represent the highest honor a state can confer in the arts. Across the country, governor’s arts awards programs share similar goals. Collectively, these programs acknowledge and showcase the best of arts and cultural communities. They highlight awardees’ statewide achievements—or, in some cases, national or even international successes—related to creativity and/or leadership. They recognize awardees’ visions as well as the talent and hard work they bring to bear in realizing.

Governor’s Awards website: https://www.njgaae.org/
I’ve had the chance to absorb this news and I’m feeling quite gratified, reflecting on the many early hours driving to schools in NJ for RockRoots gigs, songwriting residencies and solo assemblies across CT, NJ, PA and right here in the Lehigh Valley.

RockRoots

A partial list for RockRoots: Kevin Soffera, Nick Franclik, Wayne Smith, Don Mayer, Billy Wear, Craig Thatcher, Beau Jones, Rick Levy, Jeff Biro, Todd Schied, Neil Braunstein and others. I am also thankful for Donna Reckelhoff at Young Audiences of NJ who has really hustled our show to NJ schools since 1991.
YANJ has given me the financial ability to raise my family since 1991, a deep knowledge in the field of Teaching Artistry with college-level workshops, and provided me a rich laboratory to work on my craft as a TA. I have also benefited from being immersed in this community of creative teaching artists and inspired me to create Teaching Artists of the Lehigh Valley. I am blessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fountain Hill Elementary School

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

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

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

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

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

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

We finished up the You Tuber,

I use a camera, lights, and a green screen

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

I post vids on my high-tech computer

I’m gonna be a YouTuber.

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

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

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

We worked on Taste Tester.

I work all day in a Ice Cream Lab

Coco, Cranberry, Bacon, and Crab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same backup dancers and loyal fans

My tunes are sick, a rap music Zinger

I’m gonna be a pop star singer

 

I have a salon filled with hair dyes and afros

I work on fades, extensions, weaves and updos

My clientele are all on the A-List

I’m gonna be a Stylist

 

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

Still, a productive session.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Kids First Child Care Center in Vineland, NJ

This was going to be a challenge for RockRoots. First of all, Vineland is over two hours from the Lehigh Valley, with three vehicles with musicians at the wheel. Second, we had two shows for 120 three/four year-olds and then another for 80 four/five year-olds. These ages present some major situations for me and the band.

I left at 6:45 am for the 10 and 11 am shows. I know a fairly good (non-Philly) route and got there in plenty of time. I’ve played this school a couple of years ago with my solo folk show, so I felt at home. It’s a well-run and friendly group of teachers, with Miss Carole, the founder and principal of this private pre-school. Class rooms are spread throughout a campus of small buildings. We were in the main building, carpeted and filled with great art.

A wonderful and comfortable assembly space.

I set up the PA and waited for the band. Kevin called in to let me know when he’d get there and arrived w/ twenty minutes. Not a problem for us. Nick and Wayne arrived with 4 minutes to spare, and I said to Nick that a call would have been nice. (grrr…) Still, we were ready to go at 10 after, and the little kids and their teachers started coming in.

Three and four year-olds sat in awe of the band, some cupping their ears – only a couple, but understood. I don’t believe many had ever seen such a thing. That’s powerful stuff.

Kevin’s drums set and wall art. Nice!

I started by introducing the players and their instruments, a good and friendly way to ease our way into the show, and give them some things to concentrate on and some knowledge. Then, we did Rock and Roll Music as a band. The teachers were now at ease and ready to have fun.

We rolled through our simpled-down set: African rhythm, Irish mandolin tunes, Fishin’ Blues, Charlie Stone (the vocal trombone got their attention), Mojo and Battle of New Orleans. We’ve been putting in a kids’ song at this point and today we did We Gave Names. Again, simple song for the band (they get to have some fun while I’m dealing with the audience interaction and educational aspects.

I cut out a lot of the historical rap, a few medleys, cut to My Girl (with audience singing – mostly the teachers) and headed for the finale – today it was All Around the Kitchen. Get ’em up and dancing. It worked like a charm. Amazing, actually. The kids were all up and moving, teachers dancing. After a few examples (including the new Car Dealership dance), I bring selected kids (I ask for three and get six… and that’s okay) and have them demonstrate their moves, always surprising and delightful for the band and the teachers. I then do the last dance by selecting a teacher (I always have my eye on the most likely culprit), who, in turn, gets to pick two other teachers. That always amps up the energy immensely and the teachers (especially in this age group) always knock it out of the park. The first show featured the two male teachers, and I remarked that they were Chippendales. That got a chuckle out of the teachers.

We finished up the two shows, got some great thankyous from teachers and Miss Carole, who said she’d like us back next year.

Why does it work, even for such a novel audience?

  1. Let’s face it, a large part of the audience is the faculty and staff. They really appreciate the talent of the musicians, my dry commentary and asides, and the educational content and delivery of the material. We are the real deal.
  2. Even if the spoken material goes over the heads of the little kids, some things stick like city names, instruments, genres, etc. But, they get to see a live band. Life-changing.
  3. The band members are good people and enjoy each other’s company. No small thing.
  4. We show up and, for the most part, start on time, end on time. We are professionals and represent Young Audiences well. Our liaison Donna at YANJ headquarters also is extremely friendly, helps promote RockRoots and can negotiate any weather concerns, schedule snafus in a friendly manner. We are professionals in every way.

The long day and intensity of running two professional and entertaining show, five-plus hours of Jersey driving took its toll and I feel it, even a day later. Gettin’ old, but still gettin’ better at the job I love.

I returned to one of my favorite camps, Camp Happiness, in Milford, CT. I’ve been doing a show here for at least ten years now (even though last year was washed out with Covid) and particularly like the counsellors who “get it.” They jump in and make a great example for the kids.

The kids have special needs, to varying degrees, but the staff encourages the students wonderfully. This year’s turnout was especially small due to the continuing Covid worries, but we managed to have a good time. I got into town early and we decided to move my 10:30 show up to 9:30, which was most welcome. We also decided to do it outdoors on the grass.

I’m actually rusty on some of the material: Cat Came Back, Baby Shark, Bear Hunt. I’ve haven’t done these in front of folks for a year and a half. So it was good to get them out. This show with these kids usually gives me a chance to work on some new things. I asked for a new wrinkle for Bear Hunt so one boy said, “Haunted House” and another chimed in, “with an elevator.” So we did it. It was pretty funny.

I brought out the bag. Rhythm instruments for Names of the Animals, puppets for Down By The Bay and scarves for Jelly in the Dish. I also got the kids to change instruments and scarves with each other after every verse. Mixing it up socially.

I finished up with Splish Splash but added a part for the kids to add one of there favorite dances, similar to what I’ve been doing with All Around the Kitchen. One counsellor came up with what we called the Car Dealership. It was great and I’ll use it again.

It was a good session and I’m so glad the staff invites me back every year. I get energized from the visit. It was a long day 5 am to 2 pm with lots of road time, but the traffic was fairly easy and I listened to a lot of podcasts.

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.

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.

I had my first April gig today, part of a Chamber of Commerce Zoom conference. I was asked to lead a break-out session of music so I called it a hootenanny, a term that the corporate folks didn’t quite recognize when I brought it up. There ya go.

Fred from Working Dog Press hired me (he really is a wonderful supporter of me, Godfrey’s and the LV arts community at large) to work my magic and lead a sing-along. I appreciate his trust. These folks are community leaders working in various civic organizations, and this was an opportunity to bring my creative arts to them. I was among a chef, a golf instructor, a painter and a physical therapist.

I actually did something for this organization several years ago with a break-out songwriting session up at Zoellner Center, so I felt comfortable in working with these professionals.

I led off with Take Me Out to the Ball Game and followed with I Like Peanut Butter. I said that even if the sound was turned off on Zoom, I wanted to see them singing, the next best thing. I also wanted to see them move. I was able to sprinkle in my Pete Seeger observations about the power of singing together. I followed with My Girl, breaking the response into the three parts, and, again, insisting on Motown movements. It worked well.

I experimented with Skip To My Lou. I gave them a prompt early in the session to put a minor peeve about the pandemic. I linked my verses about insects (Ants in my pants are making me dance) and wanted to show how the song could be able for us the shake some negativity off from the past year and put it in the song. So I did some simple verses about missing family, coffee with friends and lack of hugs. It was fun.

I finished with Simple Gifts, stating that sometimes we just have to sing for ourselves. I share the lyrics on the screen and we sang it several times together, with the last verse on their own. As it turns out, it was a good song to finish the session. Time was up and we returned to the larger group.

I had planned on finishing with A Little Help From My Friends but ran out of time. I was able, though, to bring in up in my short recap. I think it really hit home for the larger group. “What would you say if I sang out of tune, would you get up and walk out on me?” I thanked the group for not getting up and walking out on me. The facilitator took that as a perfect way to bring the larger session to a close. Sometimes things just work out like that.

It was an intense half-hour session but I did my job well. Still, I’m a little rusty from the lay-off.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to get paid for my skills.