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Songwriting in the Classroom and Beyond
by Laurie Ornstein


Laurie continues advice on classroom songwriting, by introducing the details of two community-based projects in Ireland and Scotland, and giving guidelines to teachers on how to do songwriting in the classroom.

The first "Notes" column was devoted to songwriting and I'd like to continue unraveling that thread of thought.

Consider how children, unprompted, compose their own lyrics and rhymes in the playground, at home and in school. It's a wonderful medium for self-expression, creativity and fun.

As many of you already know, folk singing has taken me to interesting places and encounters with engaging people, including N. Ireland. There, I've learned a lot about reconciliation and understanding.

Pathways Song-Writing Project for Schoolchildren in Ireland

"Pathways" is a peace and reconciliation program for schools in the north of Ireland.
New Songs of Ulster-CD
It brings together children from different religious and political backgrounds in a divided society to work cooperatively on arts projects while they explore common interests. Tommy Sands, singer-songwriter, gave his time and talents as facilitator, helping children in the north to tell their stories and set them to music. The class teacher and music teacher were also integrally involved in this project, which was funded by the European Union, The Department of Education Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and the Southern Education and Library Board.

Two schools from the same village or town were paired. Within each school two classes were selected of similar age. With the help of Tommy Sands, these classes collaborated, writing a song on a common topic of their choice. The children wrote about their dreams for peace in Co. Tyrone, (Dungannon), the local train station (Trew and Moy), the city of Newry (Welcome to Newry) and more. (See link to New Songs of Ulster-CD, above)

The paired classes met five times in each others' schools, alternatively, or, when this was not acceptable by parents, on neutral ground (e.g. local library). The last meeting of each workshop was devoted to recording the songs. The final product was a professional quality CD of six songs from twelve different schools, "Pathways, New Songs of Ulster". The CD has been aired on local radio and a concert was held to celebrate the project. Needless to say, the "process" was the most important part of it all.
To learn more about this project, see:

I envision a similar project here in Israel. Such a project would encourage sorely needed dialogue between the different sectors of our society. I have already written a preliminary proposal for a southern-based EFL songwriting project involving Bedouin and Jewish schoolchildren. I pray that funding will be found and I'll be able to write about the work in the not-too-distant future.

Community Songwriting Project

Let me tell you of another "honorable mention" songwriting project across the North Channel from N. Ireland
New Makars Trust: "Celebrating Fife in Song" is a community songwriting project developed by The New Makars Trust in Scotland. Locals create songs to tell about their lives including work with both elementary and secondary schools. Young and old tell their stories and compose songs of past and present events in their respective communities. "Life in the Kingdom" is a double CD with vibrant songs made by the schoolchildren of Fife together with songwriters." Gifford Lind, singer-songwriter from Dunfermline in Fife, is a key artist and educator who has orchestrated much of this fascinating project work.

Guidelines for songwriting projects
Israeli learners have their own stories to tell and songs can give them wings. The above projects can be adapted to our own needs and to the levels of our pupils. A songwriting project is especially suited to native speaker groups of all ages. However, successful projects can also be designed for other levels. The projects can be tailored to the tastes of our classes and can tap on rap, rock, blues, folk, etc.

Here are a few basic guidelines for songwriting in class:

  1. Choose a topic. Brainstorm ideas and jot them down.
  2. Tell a story. It's easier than writing a "descriptive" song and it will hold everyone's attention. You might make a relevant vocabulary list on the board to prompt the pupils. Discuss and give examples of rhyming words.
  3. Music and/or lyrics. Decide whether to write your own melody or just the lyrics, set to a well-known song. There are no set rules to this game. However, if you have chosen to write your own music, it might be easier to write the words first and then the music. You can take cues from the lyrics regarding the melody line. Perhaps, a musically talented pupil in the class would be willing to compose the melody for "homework". (and possibly extra credit!)
  4. Find the rhythm. If you've chosen to go on your own, "find" the rhythm. A well-known song will dictate the rhythm to you.
  5. Making the story into lyric. Now write each sentence of the story on a new line. Edit. Cut every possible word that can be cut. You might have to explain that the rules of grammar can be "ignored" here.
  6. Chorus. Write a chorus. It adds to the song and repetition is fun and quickly learned.
  7. Keep it simple!
  8. Record it! At the end of the lesson, record the song and make copies of the lyrics for the whole class.

(You may also refer to the lesson plan in the previous "Notes" column on writing rap.)

Good luck and may your songs resound!

Song Lyrics from the "Pathways" CD:

Trew and Moy

Here comes the train into Trew and Moy station.

In eighteen hundred and fifty eight, The people gathered to celebrate, And every girl and boy Went down to the station in Trew and Moy. And they came from Laghey and Clonmore, From Derryless and Tannamore, From Killyman and Kinnego, All aboard and away we go!

Chug-a-chug-a-choo, pride of all nation Here comes the train into Trew and Moy Station.

There were day old chicks and crocks of cream, And bags of turf and chests of tea, Horses from the Great Moy fair And the King and Queen, I do declare.

Chug-a-choo, pride of all nation Here comes the train into Trew and Moy station.

Lord Northlands says, "I'm a powerful man, And there'll be no train coming over my land!" "The only thing that we can do Is dig a tunnel under you."

And when that whistle echoed round, Some people said, "It's a heavenly sound." But others liked it not so well, "It's more like a bat coming out of hell."

But then there came the sorrowful news From station master Kevin Hughes, "The Trew and Moy is closing down" Still in my dream I can hear that sound.

Chug-a-choo, pride of all nation, Here comes the train into Trew and Moy Station.

Songwriting Links:

Writing Songs with Children by Lisa Garrison

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