How do we deal with the many feelings we experience while stuck at home and living through a pandemic? For some GVP students, the answer is through songwriting.
A new student-led Songwriters’ Club has flourished at GVP as a unique space for students to explore composing their own songs and remixing others’. Students meet weekly via Zoom to workshop original lyrics and share their latest creations with peers. They swap techniques for using GarageBand, a digital music creation studio available on their iPads. And the finished products are impressive: as STEAM Coordinator Danielle Ereddia says, “It’s not only that students are writing lyrics, they’re writing melodies and using loops, voice filters, and instruments on GarageBand to construct multi-layered songs…with up to 14 different tracks on one song.”
It all started last summer when a student approached Music Teacher Elise Witt with an ask: she had composed a set of song lyrics and wanted help turning them into a song. Elise, a professional singer-songwriter, worked with the student in the fall semester via Zoom to transform her original lyrics into a fully fleshed out song. When other students caught wind of this exciting new project, they wanted in, too – and a new club was born.
Songwriters’ Club is yet another example of how the pandemic, while dramatically limiting educational opportunities, has also opened unexpected doors: GVP students taught themselves GarageBand using the iPads distributed by GVP for remote learning. As Elise recalls, “Songwriters’ Club began as our first pandemic experimentation with clubs. I am thrilled with how the students have taken the idea and run with it, teaching each other (and me!) how to use the technology.” Students have written songs about their experiences as immigrants and about the judgments they sometimes face as newcomers to the U.S. Others have used the technology to reimagine traditional songs from their home cultures, adding unique layers and harmonies to create something new. The innovation is endless: “[Students] are creating marvelous and intricate arrangements on Garageband,” says Elise, “coming up with layered, polyrhythmic vocal harmonies, and having fun playing with the different instruments and effects.”
Of course, the use of music as a vehicle for self-expression and learning is nothing new at GVP. Songwriters’ Club is only the newest addition to an arts-integrated curriculum that has long prioritized opportunities for students to experience, create, and perform music and other forms of art. With the courage and creativity of GVP’s many arts teachers, volunteers, and partners, that commitment has been sustained during remote learning as well: This February, GVP students were captivated by virtual guest performances from music artists like Lea Morris and Arnae Batson. 21 GVP students are currently learning ukulele, guitar, or piano virtually as part of the instruments lessons offered to students every year. And every week, students participate in drama classes with GVP’s long-time partner Playmaking for Girls via Zoom.
These activities not only help students experience the power and joy of art, but also contribute to their learning of English and core subjects. “GVP students who are now in college,” says Ms. Elise, “tell me they remember the Water Treatment Cycle, Math Operations, and the Five Freedoms because of the songs we wrote together.” Music helps students solidify their understanding of a range of topics from their content classes, from similes to life cycles, through the songs they write with Elise in weekly music classes. Most recently, our newcomer class has been working on a song about rights that they hope to share with our wider community at the Virtual Authors’ Tea in May!
Above all, engagement with the arts – including activities like Songwriters’ Club – is critical for empowering GVP students to use their voices. Refugee learners face many barriers as they navigate a new language, culture, and country, but through music, GVP students gain a creative pathway to sharing their voices and growing into capable young leaders. “You can see,” says Danielle, “when our Form 1 students are still nervous to be on the stage. And the Form 2 students are a little more comfortable. But the Form 3 students – they’re glowing. They are so proud to be standing on stage and sharing and using their voices. I think that is what is the most powerful about the arts at GVP.”
These days, the student who inspired the creation of Songwriter’s Club has been putting the finishing touches on her original song, which is about how she misses everyone during remote learning and hopes she’ll see them again. She shared a version of her creation with the whole school during our virtual GVP’s Got Talent this December. Her school sisters cheered her on with gusto. It was clear that the song had struck a chord with them, too, as all our students eagerly await the day when we can safely return to school, and sing together, once again.