Pupils turn to tunes -- their own

Local singer helps children compose songs about school

February 03, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

One second-grader wanted to write a song about John Travolta, another about "my stinky little brother." Other suggestions included "rotten little sisters," Russia, outer space and, well, "everything."

The writing of the national anthem, it wasn't. But, for dozens of pupils at North Laurel's Gorman Crossing Elementary School, the music they composed yesterday was equally important.

Under the auspices of local singer and songwriter Sue Trainor, who has been serving as Gorman's artist-in-residence this week, pupils in five classrooms began writing verses for class songs -- and a school song -- that they will perform at an assembly this month.

The pupils in Stephanie Mulligan's first-grade class warmed up by singing the "Too-Many-Chores-To-Do Blues."

Using images of "alligator lakes" and "dinosaur mountains," they rewrote the lyrics of the Weavers' 1950s hit, "Lion in Winter."

Then they got down to the business of composing their own song.

A suggestion by Kevin Zurvalec, 6, to write about love met with "ews" and "yucks" from his classmates. "Peanut butter and jelly" drew laughs. Sports was popular among the boys, one of whom thought writing about the New York Jets would be neat.

After a vote, the class decided to write about teachers.

"What do teachers do?" asked Trainor, trying to solicit ideas from the little composers.

"Give homework," offered one. "Read books so they know how to spell stuff," offered another. "Sometimes they have babies," offered a third.

"Miss Mulligan's having a baby!"

Gym teacher song

But back to the song.

Because "teachers" was too broad a topic, the pupils chose one of their favorites -- gym teacher Randy Wallenhorst -- and made up lyrics about him.

"Mr. Wallenhorst is a Jungle Man/He does the turkey trot/He goes gobble, gobble, gobble (walk like turkey for effect)/He teaches gymnastics/He goes ah-ah-ah-ah (imitate Tarzan by pounding on chest)/He teaches basketball/He pretends he's a bear/He says Rrrr! (claw air or scrunch up face)/ And he dances funny/Mr. Wallenhorst is a Jungle Man."

Mulligan's pupils will have about two weeks to finish the song and practice it before the school-wide assembly Feb. 19.

Singer's goals

Trainor has participated in similar artist-in-residence programs at Running Brook and Longfellow elementary schools in Columbia, and may visit other Howard County schools as well. About two years ago, she worked with emotionally and behaviorally challenged pupils at Baltimore's Sharp-Leadenhall.

"I worry that the creative part of kids' lives is becoming focused on technology -- computers, television, video -- and there's an energy in interpersonal performance I want to make sure they feel," said Trainor, who co-founded Howard County's Folkal Point concert series and has a children's compact disc coming out this month.

"It's just too easy to get stuck behind that computer."

Three R's

Yesterday, Trainor came armed with a small African drum, a six-string guitar and a bagful of homemade instruments, including a window shutter played with a vegetable brush and a rain stick made out of a mailing tube filled with rice, beans and macaroni.

She taught the pupils about rhyme, rhythm and repetition -- in short, the anatomy of a song.

The second-graders in Jacque Higgins' class passed up writing about teachers and John Travolta, and decided to write about friends.

To the beat of a drum

To the beat of Trainor's drum, they sang: "What's up, dude?/How ya doin' there?/Come out and play/I have a bear to share/Here kitty, kitty/Come on and play/I have yarn for you/We'll go to the bay."

Some pupils said they wanted to become songwriters after yesterday's experience in music composition.

But not all of them.

"I want to be a mechanic when I grow up," said Kevin Zurvalec.

Pub Date: 2/03/99

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