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Hillside Elementary students learn A-B-Cs of songwriting

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Jeff Dayton strums along during a songwriting workshop at Hillside Elementary School. Pictured with Dayton are Brandon Hanson, Marcus Mitchell, Dylan Koutz, Julian Stauner and Angel Garcia (from left) and Hunter Groskopf and A.J Kennedy (rear). Reading recovery teacher Diane Bezdicek organized the event by obtaining a music education grant from the St. Croix Valley Foundation. William Loeffler/RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

You don’t become a pop sensation overnight. For the Hawaiian Girls, it took at least a week.

The fifth-graders at Hillside Elementary School named themselves during a songwriting workshop with professional musician Jeff Dayton. Because hey, this is show biz, and you gotta have a catchy name.

Dayton, who has toured with Glenn Campbell and written songs for George Strait and others, conducted a weeklong residency at Hillside, teaching fifth-graders how to compose a song, punch it up and perform it.

They performed their compositions at a concert for parents and staff May 19 in the school gym.

For about an hour each day, Dayton coached and cajoled the kids through the tune-making process, accompanying them on ukulele and guitar.

“Sing it!” he called out as each group of kids stood and warbled their verses and choruses. “Come on, bring it!”

Step one, he said: Decide what you want the song to be about. It helps to pick the title first; think of the title as an a train engine that pulls the rest of the words and music behind it.

Then came repeated run-throughs of each song, with Dayton stopping the music to deliver advice:  Focus. Softer on this part. Look at the audience. More energy.

Shy kids were coaxed to the front, for their own good, and asked to state their name and introduce their song.

“We are developing our memory,” Dayton told the class during a break in rehearsals. “We are developing our public speaking skills and our presentation skills.”

By the third day, the girls had their song, an upbeat number called “Beach Party.” The all-male Blue Team composed the regretful “True Blue,” about their best friend moving away.

A Minnesota native who now lives in Nashville, Dayton developed the course, called “Making Music, Nashville Style,” to teach kids about teamwork and to build up their confidence.

Reading recovery teacher Diane Bezdicek organized the event by obtaining a music education grant from the St. Croix Valley Foundation.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

(651) 459-3435
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