The art of composing a song
By Heather Murschel, Black Hills Pioneer October 29, 2012
SPEARFISH — Students and Creekside Elementary in Spearfish have just finished interviewing four area residents who will be honored at this year’s Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song program.
“It’s been fun to watch the kids venture into this process. During the interview, they took meticulous notes and really asked some good questions,” said Carlene Burke, a fourth grade teacher.
This year’s elders are Larry Bell, Shirley Povandra, George Martin and Jerry Miles. This longtime tradition links generations together where elders from the community share their lives with elementary students who end up writing a song about their lives with the help of a regional songwriter.
Burke’s class interviewed Miles and they are now in the beginning stages of writing the song.
That’s where Leonard Running comes into play. As a songwriter and musician, he was chosen to assist Burke’s class in creating a song that reflects Miles and who he is as a person. During a visit to the class on Tuesday, Oct. 23 he talked about what makes a song. He spoke of how important melody, rhythm, rhyme, chords and even the title of a song can be.
“Everything is important,” Running said. “But rhythm is the toughest to master because you need to make sure the words fit just right.”
He then reached for his guitar and began playing a song that Running had written himself that contained all of those components.
After showing the students what makes up a song, Running began asking about Miles and what aspects of his life they should concentrate on.
“Who was he? What were his interests? Where did he grow up?” Running asked the students’ hands shot straight up in the air with the answers, which included everything from his favorite holiday to where he’s traveled.
Slowly but surely, the class was able to narrow down a few topics that the song is going to concentrate on, and began making a list of words that rhymed with one another.
Burke’s class isn’t the only one hard at work to prepare for Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song.
Kathy Christensen and her fourth grade class interviewed Bell and will be working with songwriter Scott Simpson.
Mike Abel’s fifth grade class interviewed Povandra and will be working with songwriter Hank Fridell.
Pam Gillespie’s fifth grade class interviewed Martin and will be working with songwriter Marianne Fridell.
Once the songs are written, the songwriters themselves record them and send them back to the students to rehearse. Not only will the kids sing the song, they’ll also read a narrative of their elder’s life.
Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song was first introduced in 1999, when Larry Long, a songwriter and community activist, visited East Elementary school. Through this program, it has been said that through owning each other’s stories, bridges are built, understanding is found, respect develops and reconciliation occurs. Because of this, barriers of age, complexion, religion, gender and class are diminished.
In its 13th year, Hank Fridell, who has written several songs for the elder’s program and has been instrumental in the performances for several years, said Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song has really taken off in Spearfish.
“There is a lot of community support,” Fridell said. “The students work really hard, so it’s fun to see it all come together.”
He said the program is also active in Custer.
Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song is usually held in the spring, but because of certain conflicts, school officials opted to change the date. The event, which is open to the public, will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 at Spearfish High School.
Reprinted with permission the Black Hills Pioneer © 2012.