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From the islands to Bethlehem, friends see history during cruise

Dottie Thomspon, Gary and Tina Baker, Cheri Audia, Cary and Terri Hall, Connie Valdovinos and Betty Castaneda traveled around Athens, Israel and Turkey on recent cruise.

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Michale McCollum/News-Sentinel
Paul Reisler, founder and artistic director of Kid Pan Alley, plays guitar and sings during the songwriting workshop in Jennifer Van Blair’s fourth-grade class at Vinewood Elementary School on Thursday morning in Lodi.

Fourth-graders at Vinewood Elementary School raised their hands and bounced in their seats as they suggested lyrics for a song telling the life story of the class’ bearded iguana.

They had just finished practicing the chorus of their song, titled “Living in a Glass House,” and moved on to part of the first verse: Growing up in the Outback, drowning in the heat, getting burned by the sun.

“You have to think about the iguana, maybe he was the one who wanted to live in a glass house. What comes next?” said Paul Reisler, founder and artistic director of Kid Pan Alley, an organization that encourages children to create their own music.

“He doesn’t want to die out there,” 9-year-old Cedar Burns said.

That was added to the next line, and Burns fist-bumped a classmate in excitement.

Vinewood students, as well as Marshall Elementary School students in Stockton, are working with Kid Pan Alley to learn how to write songs and tap into their creativity beyond their twice-a-week music classes.

“I thought, ‘How exciting to learn songwriting.’ It’s such a wonderful experience,” Vine-wood music teacher Barbara Reinhardt said.

Reinhardt applied for a grant to bring the program to Vinewood.

Over the course of a week, students brainstormed song ideas and improvised melodies, by singing individual lines to the class, to create a whole song. Students learned about the structure of a song: the chorus is the main part, while the verse helps tell the story.

“You can’t keep repeating the same thing and tell a story,” Reisler told the class.

The songs will be complete by Friday, when a quartet from the Stockton Symphony will visit the school to play for the students and help them choose which instruments to use in the song.

The big finale will be a concert for the students at the school on Monday.

Four songs will be selected to be arranged for the Stockton Symphony’s full orchestra. That concert will be held in January, according to Amelia Roberts, the education coordinator for the Stockton Symphony.

In the meantime, most of the students are enjoying the process.

“I think it’s good,” said Maggie Fugate, 9. “My favorite part is probably the chorus. I like the way it sounds.”

Reisler, a long-time songwriter and musician, started the program 15 years ago to bring the music writing experience to children, whom he believes are more easily capable of tapping into their creativity.

“I decided that I didn’t want my life and career to just be about me,” he said.

He has toured throughout North America and Asia with Trapezoid, Ki Theatre, and Paul Reisler and a Thousand Questions. Now he creates Grammy-nominated songs with children through Kid Pan Alley.

“Imagine what it’s like to be in third grade and have Amy Grant or Sissy Spacek sing a song you made. It changes what you think is possible,” he said.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.

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