First-graders put their lives, loves into song

Mount Pleasant class records CD

Special to The News Journal

Most first-graders have lots of writing assignments, but not many are given the task of penning song lyrics. But that is just what Annabelle O'Malley's first grade at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Bellevue did. And, thanks to a parent, Sevy Phalangas, the assignment did not stop there. The students got to professionally record their songs. One of the hit songs off the CD may be "Broccoli is Like a Tree" written by Billy Ransom. While practicing in their class-room for a final recording session the class enthusiastically belted out Billy's song. Phalangas led the singing. "Quiet on the set. Pretend you're in the recording studio. Watch my hands and smile as you sing it - it comes through in your voices," she said. In rock 'n' roll style the students sang:

"Broccoli, Yeah! Broccoli Broccoli is like a tree, Yeah! Broccoli is like a tree.
It has a trunk
That's thick and crunchy
A big, bushy top
That's green and bunchy
Broccoli, Yeah! Broccoli. Broccoli is like a tree, Yeah! Broccoli is like a tree.
Consume a tree,
At dinner time!
A tree you eat,
You cannot climb!
Broccoli, Yeah! Broccoli Broccoli is like a tree, Yeah! Broccoli is like a tree."

After the students finished singing, O'Mailey said with a smile, "We were studying similies and imagery" They were also studying weather, so many of the songs are about raindrops and snowflakes. Eli Newschaffer wrote about being stuck in a flood and floating on a fridge. Andrew Arrington wrote "Rain's a Pain," and Danae Paparis and Nicole McCoy wrote a duet called "Gentle Snowflake." Their song is slow soft and ballad like:

"I saw a little snowflake
Falling from the sky
It's like a little crystal
Gently floating by
The snowflake tickled my nose
And fluttered in my eyes
I saw a little snowflake
what a fun surprise."

The students add to the girls' song by quiefly singing "Pa, pa, pa" in the background. It was Danae's mother Sevy Phalangas, who initiated the recording project She is a composer and performer who studied music at the University of Pennsylvania. She knew Marc Moss, who has a recording studio in Maryland, just outside Newark. Together they set the 25 songs to music. "Using the craft of songwriting and exploring all of those parameters has proven to be a successful educational tool," Phalangas said. "We all know the power of music and we all know how quickly children learn songs and how enthusiastically they learn songs. My goal was to have the students create music in the classroom that integrated the curriculum and augmented the children's language and analytical skills." The students learned different perspectives on how to describe ideas while learning about melody and rhyming, she said. After the students at Mount Pleasant wrote their lyrics, Phalangas sat down with each one individually and together they worked on the melody "Some students already had a melodic line they wanted to use in their song," she said. "What amazes me," she added, "is the breadth of styles. Out of the 25 songs we have a rock and rollish style, a very sweet ballad type, ragtime and bluesy I wanted to show them that any idea can become a song." Songwriter Ransom said he wrote about broccoli because it is his favorite vegetable. "I kept trying to do comparisons and trying to find different words to use. I was using 'eat' too much, so we went to the dictionary and found 'consume,' " he said. Phalangas said she was happy that the students also took an interest in the songs written by their fellow classmates. Most of the recorded songs are a group effort with the class singing as a chorus. Matthias Arauco-Shapiro wrote "Feeding Time at Farmer Brown's." Phalangas said he wanted to sing the one line and only speak the next So his song has two-line verses. One of them goes like this:

"Ducks, pigs and hens in a good mood.
As Farmer Brown gives them their food."

Sarah Koelle-Pittel also wrote about animals. "I Love Animals" is the name of her song. She said her favorite part of the song is "I love animals, yes I do, and there's lots I know" O'Malley said this is the first time she has ever had a songwriting project in her classroom, and she is thrilled with the results. "I would love to be able to continue the program and expand it schoolwide. Kids who are reluctant to write stories can flourish when you tap into a different skill." "The best part of this project for me," she said, "is using a parent as a resource and having them share their gift. It shows kids we can learn from all people. I believe wholeheartedly that it takes a village to raise a child."