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Songwriter inspires sixth-graders

October 12, 2008|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA. - Sixth-graders in Morgan County Schools became songwriters this week with the help of singer, songwriter and creative writing teacher Kate Long and guitarist and national flat-picking champion Robin Kessinger.

The song writing project is one of the Morgan Arts Council's Adopt-A-School projects, coordinator Bibi Hahn said.

"This has been a phenomenal program," Hahn said. "The sixth-graders had a great time creating songs with their own words."

"We are trying to inspire the community to use song writing as a tool to express their own personal Morgan County history," said Mary Hott, executive director of the Morgan Arts Council.

The program was spawned by the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit tour called "New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music," which will be displayed at the Ice House Gallery in April, Hott said. The exhibit is part of the yearlong Back to Our Roots celebration of music, dance, folklore and visual arts that begins in January, she said.

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Students in all eight sixth-grade classes at Warm Springs Middle School and the one sixth-grade class at Paw Paw (W.Va.) Elementary School wrote the structure of a song by establishing the characters, Hahn said. They experimented with different styles of music and wrote various verses, then recorded the songs.

"They were very enthusiastic," Long said Thursday night at the evening song writing seminar offered to adults. "They showed a lot of humor and creativity."

Long and Kessinger performed the rock 'n' roll song that the sixth-graders in Beth Golden's class wrote called "Jose the Pop Tart," which made the audience laugh.

Ann Helmick, the sixth-grade teacher at Paw Paw, said all 22 students in her class participated in writing the song about a pizza guy with three problems. The students wrote the song and solved the problems.

"They all sparkled - even the kids that do not participate as much," Helmick said. "This is another way to teach language."

A technique for song writing is to create a situation and "give it a little twist," then add conflict and let that unfold in the second verse, and finally resolve it in the third verse, Long said.

"There's music in all of us," she said.

Long, of Fayette County, W.Va., has been a writing coach for 25 years and is a West Virginia Public Radio artist. Kessinger is a national guitar champion and has performed worldwide. He said he teaches guitar in Lincoln and Mason counties.

"The kids are impressed by these artists that are making a living doing art," Hahn said.

Kessinger said three of his former students won third and second place in national championships, and most recently, a student won the West Virginia flat-picking championship.

"I love teaching kids music," Kessinger said.

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