Living the Dream

Last week, we finished writing and recording some new songs with 2nd-graders at a school in Freeport, New York. In the past, I used to provide the students with CDs of the songs we composed. These days, a video is easier to share, so you can check out the first one, “Talk it Out.” I’ll send out some more, soon.

When we’re hired to write songs with students, teens or adult groups, the process is different than when I sit down to write a song for me. For example, when we walked into Ms. Sorrentino’s second-grade classroom to write “Talk it Out,” we had an agenda to write about that topic. I said, “Your principal and teacher told us that some kids are having trouble dealing with fights on the playground or on the bus. Is that true?” When they nodded their heads, I said, “Well, we’ve got a job to do then! A LOT of kids are having trouble working out their problems with kids, so let’s see if we can write a song to help them.”

Of course, we’re entertaining the kids at the same time we’re trying to get them to help us write the song. Beth and I crack jokes and sing funny songs while teaching them about choruses and verses and rhyming. Sometimes, it can feel like we’re standing on our heads and juggling coconuts to get the job done, but that’s just the way it is working with kids. Ask a lot of teachers. This job is one part teaching content, one part therapy and one part being a Las Vegas act. Whatever it takes, man.

Writing the lyrics is typically a slog and it’s usually only two or three kids and us who enjoy the craft of lyric writing. The majority of the class doesn’t come out of a learning coma until I pick up my guitar. And when I do that, the fun begins. Children who were falling asleep in their chairs come alive when the music-making begins. You can see it in their eyes and then – POW – we get to hear it in their voices once they start hearing THEIR song come alive. It’s my favorite part of the program and it happens with seven-year-olds, teens and adults in exactly the same way. Music is friggin’ magical to just about everyone.

To me, it feels like a spontaneous healing, a jet leaving the runway or the moment when the lady gets sawed in half by the magician. I remember the first time I heard Dionne Warwick sing Bacharach/David’s “I Say a Little Prayer” or Ben Vereen perform Stephen Schwartz’s “Simple Joys” from Pippin. It’s creative combustion time and I sure hope that everyone reading this has some place in their life where they feel that every now and then…but I’m not sure.

Forty years ago, I was talking to my dad and I complained, “Dad, there’s only been like five times in the past year when I felt really, really happy about my job.” His response? “You’re lucky, Son. Most people don’t get to feel that five times per year.”

So, I’m thankful for this moment. “Talk it Out” won’t win a Grammy, but it’s still fun as hell to be with the kids when we grab a tiger by the tail and come out feeling happy that we did it together.

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