Saturday, August 26, 2017 is Play Music on the Porch Day. Musicians from 17+ countries will be meeting with friends on porches for a jam session. You and your family can join the fun. In the spirit of peace, harmony and fun for all ages, with nothing offensive or demeaning, make some music. Share your celebration of music – the international language – by posting your celebration on social media with the hashtag #playmusicontheporchday
For today’s post it is my joy and pleasure to bring an interview with Emmy Award Winning Composer RODNEY WHITTENBERG, whose new CD WE STOOD UP, explores the experiences of civil rights leaders through interviews and songs. Sit back and enjoy this amazing project.
Nancy Rogers (NR): Lincoln Financial Foundation
First, a little background for context…Our company’s association with our namesake, Abraham Lincoln, goes back to our founding. In 1905, our founders asked permission of President Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, to use his father’s name for their new company – to reflect the ideals with which they intended to operate.
Fast-forward to 2016…We Stood Up actually grew out of a 3-year initiative – which we called “Lincoln’s Legacy” – to celebrate the 150th anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation (2013) and the 13th Amendment (2015). As part of the Lincoln’s Legacy initiative, we recorded oral history interviews with a wide range of people who spoke about how the ideals of freedom, opportunity and equality have evolved during their lifetimes. It was our intent from the beginning to produce an anthology of a selection of the interviews. We began with the premise that children would be most influenced – and perhaps most inspired – by other children. In many cases, the interview questions were posed by grandchildren, relatives or mentees of the interviewees – and you can sense the personal nature of some of the questions and answers. We provided some suggested questions, but the kids were also encouraged to ask about what interested them. In several cases, these recording sessions were the first time that the children had asked questions about how their grandparents or mentors had felt about the things that happened when they were young. That realization helped shape the tone and spirit of We Stood Up. The addition of songs and poems seemed like a natural way to complement the stories being shared – and another vehicle for communicating complex ideas and feelings.
The creative process was amazing on so many levels. First, there were the oral histories. Our own employees videotaped the interviews. They went to locations the interviewees had chosen, where they were surrounded by people and things that were important to them.
For Julian Bond, it was Florida during a family vacation; for Franklin McCain, it was the Woolworth lunch counter exhibit at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro; for Andrew Young, it was the Andrew & Walter Young Family YMCA in Atlanta; for Shirley Franklin, it was the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the museum she oversees as board chair; for several others it was their own homes. The locations themselves informed the creative process. And of course, the stories and reflections shared during the interviews.
Our video team members were in awe, and so honored to be playing a part in something so meaningful. They worked countless hours to get the edits just right, and to do justice to the content. Our Lincoln staff has continued to work on the project, and they remain committed advocates today.
But it became clear to us as we moved forward that we needed a dedicated professional, with experience in producing both films and records, and we were introduced to Rodney Whittenberg of Melodyvision – who has been our partner in this project for over 2 years. His creativity and guidance have been invaluable, and he has brought talent and passion in equal measure to the production of We Stood Up. Then there was the music. The music evolved the most significantly over the course of the project.
At first, we thought we would produce a spoken word album. As the album took shape, we realized that we needed a narrator to provide context and connect the interviews. Then, we began to realize that music would raise it to a different level – from an artistic standpoint, an entertainment standpoint, and an emotional standpoint.
All of the songs are original, and are tailored to the interview content, and Rodney wrote and performed in all of the songs. One of the truly gratifying things about this whole experience was the willingness of professional musicians and singers to donate their time and talent because they believed in the project. We had contributing performers who specialize in children’s music, but we also had R&B legend Sarah Dash – who couldn’t have been more supportive of the album. On the track, “Someone Thinks,” Sarah sings with her niece, and another niece runs the school where the kids’ chorus comes from. The music was written for kids, but with adults in mind, too – so that it’s enjoyable during a long car ride with the family! We also wanted it to feel new and old at the same time…to pay homage to the civil rights era, bus still sound current and relevant today.
For me this was a passion project. From the moment I first spoke with Nancy and learned about the Lincoln Legacy project I was hooked. I have been working on educational and art projects for the longest time and this made me think we could create something really special. The process started with listening to the interviews they had created, then traveling around and doing interviews. The high point for me was The John Lewis interview. He was so inspiring, his commitment and courage seams superhuman.
The songs were inspired by the interviews and the stories. Working with legendary singer Sarah Dash was a high point of the process. She really helped and connected me with Sprout performing arts school in Trenton NJ.
My favorite moment on the CD is “John Lewis on Non – Violence” in to the song “Love”.
The best part of the CD is that it’s free for teachers, schools, libraries, and it is available on iTunes. All of the proceeds go to Boys and Girls club of Phila.
Rodney Whittenberg is founder of Melodyvision where he works as a Creative Consultant by using his skills as a composer / song writer/ multi instrumentalist, producer / engineer / filmmaker and educator. He brings a fresh and unique perspective to each client and project adding value that results in creative solutions to often complex problems. Rodney has composed music for over 34 films and TV shows, and countless dance performances. Projects include: Anthony Bourdain’s show a Cooks Tour; PBS POV Documentary The Camden 28; horror cult classics Infested and Return to Sleep Away Camp. He’s received a regional Emmy for his score for the TV Documentary Mother Dot’s Philadelphia and Best Sound Design at the Terror Film Festival for Toll Taker.
Rodney’s work as a filmmaker centers around his passion for telling a story from start to finish in a creative way. Projects include: HBO Family segments 30X30: Kid Flicks; WHYY Wider Horizon educational spots; and numerous music videos and short-form documentaries. His most recent passion project is as co-producer of the feature-length documentary Caregivers: Their Passion, Their Pain, which was recently featured on Radio Times and written up in The Guardian. More info at www.melodyvision.com
We Stood UP
We Stood Up iTunes link
The Art of Songwriting, and How Kids Can Get Started by Laurel Nakai
Music has always been a big part of how I express myself. As a young child, I used to sing the Sesame Street song on the playground at the top of my lungs, and I spent countless hours listening to my mother’s records of Broadway musicals. I wrote poetry, and I loved to read and write stories. I always approach songwriting like a form of poetry. It’s storytelling, just with a different set of tools. I learned to play the clarinet in 4th grade, but it was when I picked up the guitar at 13 that the words and music came together. It became my go-to form of self-expression.
Even now, when I am feeling sad or trying to make sense of something I don’t understand, I sing about it. I find the right notes and phrases to express what I’m feeling. That was a lifesaver for me growing up. It allowed me to explore myself and my world through all of the ups and downs of adolescence. Music is amazing that way, and so are all forms of art. I think it’s so important, especially for kids, to have that kind of outlet.
Tips on Getting Started:
If you want to be a writer, read. If you want to be a songwriter, listen. Listen to as much music as you can. Learn how to play your favorite songs. Try to figure out why they resonate with you and how you can replicate that feeling. Every musician starts out playing covers. We learn from the greats that have come before us, whether it’s Beethoven or The Beatles.
- Keep a notebook, or recording device with you to capture sudden inspirations. Melodies or phrases often come to me while I’m driving, so if I’m able to, I will record myself on my phone. If not, I just keep singing over and over until I am able to write it down. I once wrote almost an entire song this way while stuck in traffic! I have also had the opposite happen, where I think of something great, but then don’t write it down or record it, and it gets lost forever. You never know when inspiration will strike, so be ready!
- Practice with friends. Collaborating with friends is a great way to get started and take the pressure off. You might find that you are better at writing lyrics than making musical arrangements, or the other way around. Working with others, either in a band or co-writing, helps us learn from each other. It’s also way more fun, and a little less scary, to get up on stage with someone else.
Speaking of getting on stage…
Learn to harness your stage fright.
If you’ve got a major dose of stage fright, you are not alone! Some of the most famous, A-list performers, still get stage fright. I have always thought of stage fright as a natural response. My body is flooded with adrenaline, and I can either freeze up in the face of that, or I can harness that energy and put it into my performance. I try to imagine the adrenaline filling up my body, not as fear, but as strength and confidence. That’s a pretty metaphysical thought, but I have some practical tips, too:
Do a ritual. Many performers have rituals they do before going on stage. Some do breathing exercises, some gather in a prayer circle with their team, some have special objects that they carry or foods that they eat. Maybe it’s just a superstition, but I think anything that helps calm you can be a way of tricking your body out of that fear response.
- Sing to the wall. Find a spot on the back wall (a clock, a poster, a crack) and perform to that. This will help you tune out other distractions, like all those people in the audience!
- The show must go on. I’m about to tell you my most embarrassing moment. I was 12, and I was doing a dance with a friend in front of her church. In the middle of the song, my skirt fell down. It was mortifying. I ran off stage, pulled my skirt back on and jumped back into the routine. I’ll never forget that performance, and I’ll never forget all the people who came up afterwards telling me how brave I was to keep going. We all fear making mistakes. Nine times out of ten, the audience won’t notice if you just keep going. Even when they do, if you can laugh it off, the audience will be forgiving, maybe even call you brave. You’ll also remember to bring extra safety pins for your costume next time!
You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to start out. Get a used, but good quality, instrument and use your phone or computer to record. There are lots of apps and programs out there like Garageband that make it easy to play around with sound recording. Still, I do most of my initial writing with just my guitar and a pen and paper.
Most of all, write what you are passionate about. So many songs have the same themes— love, loss, overcoming adversity— but we all have unique ways of telling those stories. We need your unique voice and your music, so keep singing!
Laurel Nakai is a singer-songwriter and children’s author. You can find original songs, parodies, and Songwriting 101 videos, on her YouTube Channel SongBird. She is also a team member for KidLit TV where she contributes music for theme songs and special projects. Find out more on her website, and connect with her on facebook, and twitter.
Other Resources to check out:
SoundCloud– Soundcloud is a great place to find new music, as well as connect with some established artists. You can upload your own sounds and find followers there, keep them private, or post them on your own website or social media.
Little Kids Rock– a non-profit organization that teaches music to kids and provides schools with resources for music education. Their website features lots of resources for kids and educators including lessons, games, and video. Their YouTube channel also features inspiring videos including kid songwriters performing their original works.
Acappella App– An app that allows you to make acappella videos (the ones where the same person sings all the parts). It’s fun to experiment and play around with. You can keep your videos private or share them with the social media feature. There is also a collaborative feature that lets you contribute to other people’s videos.
HitRecord- If you’re looking for collaboration, HitRecord is a production company started by actor Joseph Gordon Levitt with an interactive twist on creating. People can post and use each other’s work to make unique creations. For instance, a songwriter might write a song to someone’s or an artist might draw illustrations for another person’s story. There are even ways to get paid if some of your work is used. If nothing else though, it’s a haven for creative people and ideas.
Did you know that March is SING WITH YOUR CHILD MONTH? Me either. But it is, and what could be more fun than singing along to the ever popular PETE THE CAT! If you haven’t already checked out Pete’s popular website, you are missing out on a treat. Young children ADORE Pete and his “groovy” adventures. You can sing along to some tunes that celebrate the books and adventures of Pete. http://tinyurl.com/ocn5utf
You can also crank up some of your old favorites and have a song and dance party. Doesn’t matter what you sing…just let go and enjoy the power of music. What songs do you enjoy singing with your little ones?
I’ve been discovering many new web sites that allow you to download all kinds of educational games, activities and videos for free. Here are a few of the best:
1. The Daring Librarian website is filled with “techie” web links for kids of all ages. http://www.thedaringlibrarian.com
2. iStoryTime.com has an illustrated, narrative collection of books and stories for kids that you can download to an iPhone or tablet.
3. iGameMom.com has an app for iPads called The Crankamacallit. It’s all about educational games and activities for kids of all ages.
4. Deedil Apps is run by a teacher mom and her techie husband. Your child can learn to sing the A B C’s like a robot, and have books to read downloaded onto your smart phone. Check it out at: http://www.deedil.com
The Rapper Ludacris – Chris Bridges – has launched a super interactive website with the help of his 10 year old daughter Karma. Called karmasworld.com, it is filled with songs, stories and games for grades first through sixth. I found the games to be entertaining, fun and age appropriate. They are also educational and have great kid appeal.