Budding musicians

The ‘Youthsongs Project’
to perform at Folk Festival

Area’s history was highlighted
in songs by schoolchildren

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

Ohio River Valley Folk Festival

(May 2009) – While most children love to listen to their favorite tunes, they would certainly avoid history class if they could. In a unique way to teach the area’s history, schoolchildren from Jefferson County, Ind., teamed with a professional songwriter to write nine original songs.
Youthsongs of Jefferson County, Madison and Hanover, Ind., will perform their works at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival. The festival, which features a variety of folk musicians, artisans and storytellers, will be held along the riverfront at Madison Bicentennial Park on May 15-16.
“We are always looking at ways to involve our youth in the community event,” said John Walburn, festival chairperson. “We felt this would be an excellent opportunity to showcase some of the area’s young and talented musicians.”
The project evolved last year when Alva and Drusilla Tripp’s Madison Performing Arts Inc. decided to organize a program for area schoolchildren. More than 300 students from Lydia Middleton, Pope John XXIII and Southwestern Elementary Schools helped write and then perform nine songs that highlight the history of the area.
Canadian singer-songwriter Katherine Wheatley was hired to help lead the students in the project. She developed a program for schools across North America in which she helps the students write songs about their local history. Prior to the lyric writing, local historians are brought in to the schools for presentations about certain aspects of the area’s history. She will return to Madison to perform with the students at the folk festival.

Katherine Wheatley

Photo provided

Katherine Wheatley
will perform at the
Ohio River Valley Folk Festival with area
schoolchildren. The Youthsongs Project
will take the stage
at 3:30 p.m. on Sat.

In Jefferson County, historians Jae Breitweiser, Ron Grimes, John Staicer and Heidi Krugel were brought into the classes for presentations.
It was a fun, fun project,” said Wheatley during an April telephone interview. “Each class was very different, and we all learned that the area has a very rich and interesting history.”
She said that during the creative process, students are encouraged to listen to and respect each other’s ideas as well as offer their own ideas. What they may find is that their idea didn’t end up in the song but it led to an idea that led to another idea that ended up in the song.
“In this way, the kids learn that respect for each other and courage are key components of collaboration and creativity,” she said. “Even the shy kids got involved after I encouraged them.”
Wheatley spent several hours with each class, and once the students decided upon the topic, they did “point of view” exercises that helped them imagine being that person, such as Freeman Anderson, a slave who was also a conductor for the Underground Railroad in the area.
Then, with guitar in hand, Wheatley helped the students pick the notes to go along with the lyrics. “After picking eight or nine notes, the song simply repeats and varies those notes,” she explained. “This process also helps demystify the music process for the students, and the kids feel a sense of accomplishment and boost to confidence relatively quickly.”
When all of the classes finished their compositions, they compiled a CD. Now, many of those students have been invited back to perform their songs at the folk festival.
Lynn Maricle, a retired Madison Consolidated High School music teacher, was the liaison that coordinated Wheatley’s visits to the classrooms.
“The program was absolutely fantastic,” Maricle said. “The songs the students composed were really good and need to be out in the public.” She said the project was inspired by the desire of the schools to put together a music project for the Madison Bicentennial Celebration.
“These songs need to become the fabric of Madison,” she said. “I can just hear ‘Saddle-tree, Saddletree’ being played over and over at Historic Madi-son Inc.’s Saddletree Mu-seum.”
She hopes Wheatley will be asked to come back to do more projects with the area schools.
Tony Schroe-der, who works in student services at E.O. Muncie Elemen-tary and a member of the folk festival organizing committee, coordinated the effort to bring the Youthsongs project and the folk festival together.
“I think the audience is in for a real treat with the Youthsongs performance,” he said. “The students and Wheatley did a phenomenal job.”

• For more information about Katherine Wheatley, visit: www.KatherineWheatley.com.

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