Young Songwriters Taught Through Distance Learning Program

Posted in News on August 7, 2003
What if a group of talented students were to get together with award-winning songwriters and collaborate on a project that would allow the veterans to teach the novices something about the craft of songwriting? The students would develop a set of songs that the veterans critiqued and then refine their material over the course of a semester. At the end of the process, the students would perform the best of their work before their teachers, parents and friends, along with the songwriters who helped them craft their material. But what if the students and songwriters were separated by thousands of miles?

Christopher Cerf and Julie Gold with some of the students who participated in the distance learning program

In collaboration with the United States Department of Education, the Arts in Education Grants, the Florida Department of Education and Apple Computer Corporation, BMI facilitated just such a distance learning experience for a group of budding songwriters from Hillsborough Country, Florida Public Schools. The project was brought to fruition through a link established between BMI's video conferencing center in New York City and a specially configured video classroom at the University of South Florida.

Videoconferencing allowed students and teachers to talk despite being thousands of miles apart

As teachers, BMI sought the assistance of two of its leading songwriters: Julie Gold, the Grammy Award-winning writer of "From A Distance," and Christopher Cerf, the Emmy award-winning composer of "Sesame Street" and producer/composer for "Between the Lions."

Julie Gold and Christopher Cerf

The Master Teachers met with the student songwriters on four occasions throughout the spring using the BMI video conferencing facility. They each spoke about their techniques for songwriting and performed works of theirs that would illustrate principles of the craft. Through the generous support of the Yamaha Corporation, both groups worked on Yamaha PSR 550 keyboards in the preparation of their material.

Julie and Chris gave assignments to the students, one of which was to write a song based upon a favorite book and the other was to create a song of the student's choosing. The contrast of the two assignments was a means of illustrating how some songs are, in effect, written to order while others arise out of the inspiration of the moment. The students created their material in collaboration with their music teachers. Downloaded copies of the songs were sent to Julie and Chris, who critiqued them after the students had spoken about their experience of creating the materials.

During the final class, Chris and Julie discussed with the students which of their songs was the best for final revisions and performance. They also made suggestions for possible arrangements of the material that could make for the best possible public performance. The students then gave a recital of their works - a total of 16 songs that included solo pieces while others were group projects. The reception by the audience was enthusiastic, and plans are in process for the project to be repeated in the future.

This innovative and creative project was directed by Robbin Ahrold, BMI's Vice President of Corporate Relations, assisted by Dr. David Sanjek, Director of the BMI Archives. Special thanks to Margaret Griffin, Supervisor of Elementary Music Education, June Hinckley, Program Specialist for the Florida Department of Education, and Lynne Reniak, who provided USF's indispensable technical assistance.


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