Necessity is the mother of invention… We music teachers might not think of ourselves as songwriters. Sure, we’ll arrange Orff accompaniments and create ostinati for our students to perform, but we don’t usually start from scratch to write songs for them to sing in front of an audience. Whether we’re seasoned instructors or first-year educators, we tend to gravitate toward our favorite go-to hits. We have hundreds of resources at our fingertips and a wealth of repertoire to choose from. We sing songs that are tried and true and sure to please. Yet we still run out of ideas when it comes to selecting performance repertoire. Why? Well, maybe we get tired of performing the same songs. Sometimes we need a specific song for a theme-related performance. Other times we need a song that appeals to a certain audience. I suppose it’s kind of like updating our wardrobes… we need variety!
Finding inspiration… I love to write songs for my students to sing and play. I can’t remember the first time I showed an interest in songwriting, but I distinctly remember the first tune I improvised on the piano when I was about ten years old. I would often get bored with my usual practice routine (who didn’t, right?) and I would make things up every now and again. To this day, I am constantly improvising tunes in my head and “noodling” at the piano. And while the music tends to flow for me, I admit that I have a difficult time writing my own lyrics. I am fortunate, however, to have a colleague in my building who is brilliant with poetry and text. She is my go-to friend every time I need to write a song for the kids; she provides the literary mold and I shape it into a song. When I’m looking for something suitable for more mature voices, such as choral or solo repertoire, I tend to find inspiration from poetry of public domain. I’ve enjoyed sifting through poems online and setting them to art songs. Regardless of where I find my inspiration, it’s often with lyrics first because lyrics tend to set the mood. They create the canvas upon which the music can come alive. Try it… you’ll see what I mean!
Sharing and caring… Several years ago, our school made a pledge to be courageous and kind. We dug into the vaults of the many grade-level plays we’ve performed over the years and found one that was “absolutely perfect” for first grade… “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes. It was essentially a choral reading/dramatization of a lovely children’s story about kindness and friendship. Although my colleague and I wrote the opening song specifically for this play, I teach it to my incoming first graders every fall to get us in the spirit of kindness. The form is a simple (A) (B1) (A) (B2) (A) (A*) in a chorus and refrain setting. Students clap on the rests only in the A section. When they repeat the A section for the last time, they sing it on a “la” syllable. And if they’re really into it, they raise their arms on the very last beat and add a resounding YEAH! Please enjoy a copy of this song and know that you are more than welcome to sing it with your students. I only ask that you cite its origin if performing it in public.
Thanks for reading!