Musicians sit with grade-schoolers, teach songwriting

2013-01-24T17:45:00Z 2013-01-25T13:41:04Z Musicians sit with grade-schoolers, teach songwritingBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

They were perfectly matched. Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet had no problem singing about boogers and bed-head and the class of fifth- and sixth-graders at Boulder Elementary had no problem listening to it. 

"We are musicians," Grimwood told the group. "We are entertainers."

"And extremely handsome men," Idlet threw in.

After the laughter and chatter died down, the two musicians got to work. 

"We're gonna talk to you about the process of writing music," Grimwood said. "You need an idea."

The students were eager to participate. Idlet and Grimwood, in town for a Saturday concert at the Alberta Bair Theater, are the family-friendly folk/rock duo known as Trout Fishing in America. They've spent that last half of the week visiting Billings elementary schools. 

Thursday afternoon, the two classes were gathered in Boulder's library for the mini-assembly. Before the songwriting exercise began, Idlet and Grimwood performed a handful of their own tunes, touching on kid-literate subjects like waking up with wicked bed-head and feeling sleepy at night. 

The last song was about boogers. 

Poetically titled "Alien in My Nose," the song details the struggles of a young boy trying desperately to get rid of a booger he's picked from his nose. 

The song got more outrageous the longer it went on. And, by the end, in crisp harmony, the duo sang, "I knew I'd have to eat it." Gasps, giggles and guffaws erupted across the library. 

Grimwood and Idlet smiled, clearly having gotten the reaction they wanted. 

Following the performance, the duo began asking the students what ideas they liked for a good song.

Grimwood, holding a Sharpie and a yellow legal pad, wrote the suggestions down as fast as they came. 

The kids shouted out everything from tacos, to how much homework stinks, to wearing braces, to how there's never enough time to do all the fun things. 

And then someone called out, "Being in a hole and losing your soul."

"Whoa," Idlet responded. "That's dark, but that's real true. It can happen to people."

After filling the sheet with two-dozen starts, Grimwood handed the paper to Idlet, who chose the three ideas that seemed best to fit the chords he had in mind: food, not enough time and braces.

Then they put it to a vote. Closing their eyes, the kids raised their hands for the option they liked best and "not enough time" won out. 

Working for the next 30 minutes, Grimwood and Idlet took lines of lyrics from the students and paired them with the tune Idlet was picking on his guitar. 

Grimwood would have them sing a couplet, revise the words and sing it again. At one point, struggling to find a good conclusion to the song, Grimwood struck on an idea of tying the last verse back into the first verse and the kids cheered and applauded. 

The final product was a modest tune about never having enough time to sleep and hang out with friends while finding that there was too much time in the day for activities like school, homework and chores. 

"That's something anybody can relate to," Idlet said. 

Sixth-graders Nathan Waite and Ryker Clarin loved the experience. They planned to go home and write their own songs about video games and food. 

Collaboration with peers and musicians seems to work. 

"We got to work together," Nathan said. 

Classmates Tiahna Vladic and Jade Hallgrimson were impressed by how straightforward songwriting and creating can be.  

"We can do it," Jade said. "It's really simple."

Grimwood and Idlet recorded the song live at the end of the assembly, played it back to the students to cheers and applause, and will send a copy to the school after their tour.  

Idlet praised the students' creativity.

"This song never existed before we all came here," he said. 

 

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