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Monday, October 25, 2010

'Pass you the Ball': MacFarland students bond as they create song together

The first question was simple: “Do you guys know why we’re here today?”

The answer was pure enthusiasm: “Because we’re going to be famous!!”

And with that, the ASCAP Songwriter Residency @ America SCORES was under way. Last Monday and Tuesday, The Great Unknown – a critically acclaimed alternative-folk band from Philadelphia – worked with DC SCORES students at MacFarland Middle School to create an original song.

On Wednesday, everyone headed to a professional studio in Springfield, VA to record it.

The song, “Pass you the Ball,” can be heard as background in the amazing video (above) the band members put together of the experience. And after the Great Unknown completes its tour of four more America SCORES cities, an album of everyone’s songs will be created.

The 20 or so students who participated in the program progressed from being a bit unsure of themselves and shy on Monday afternoon to confidently singing lines in unison, clapping and stomping their feet under the bright lights Wednesday.

And they loved every minute of it.

“It was awesome,” said fifth-grader Lizbeth E. after her group finished recording its part. “I feel so, like, I mean, I’m a star!”

When it was time to record, students stayed in the four groups they had used Tuesday to practice their parts. While one group sang, or clapped, following the lead of a band member, another group observed from the control room how their peers’ words were layered on top of the music. The other groups were entertained outside by another band member, playing football or whiffle ball.

After all four groups had recorded their parts, the band quickly spliced everything together – and, thus, created the finished product. Even though everybody wasn’t singing at once, the students sensed that the experience tightened the bond between them.

“This is a great opportunity for MacFarland to show how we’ve come together so far this fall,” said fifth-grader Kareem B.

Added eighth-grader Tyrohn B, “It was fun getting to work with everyone. It does (build teamwork) in some ways because we’re learning that anybody can not be embarrassed by doing what everyone is doing.

“It is kind of fun to realize that.”

The process was quick, and the progress dramatic. During the hour and a half spent together Monday, band members Brad, Todd, Matt and Jordan sat down with the students and brainstormed ideas. They asked them to write one thing that goes into a song, and then they broke into groups to discuss the importance of topics such as family, friends and their neighborhood.

Prior to Tuesday’s session, the band developed a melody, and the students then formed their groups, created their lines and practiced reciting them to the music. They determined that one highlight of the song would be a two-person solo sung in Spanish.

Then, just like that, it was show time. After a long bus ride, the students piled into the Bias Studios building, admired the hundreds of CDs that plastered the walls, and listened intently as Brad explained how the recording process would work.

Keon K.’s group was the first to go, and they had the job of clapping in unison. Matt handed Keon a pair of headphones so he could hear the background music and lead his group in the exercise.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Keon, a fifth-grader. “You could hear everything they were saying and how you sound.”

The next group had the job of singing, “Heart … rhythm … love … sound,” first loud, then softer, and softer – all while keeping to the beat.

After an hour, it was mission accomplished. The recording was complete. Everyone, goofy smiles plastered on their faces, gathered in the control room for a final photo shoot with the band before heading back to school.

In that moment, at least, they felt as famous as the artists’ CDs on the walls. And who knows what the future might bring.

As fifth-grader Jennifer V. said, a future goal of hers is, “Being in a band!”

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