Writing songs with children in Cederberg and Red Hill


For whatever reason it seemed difficult to engage the children in writing their own story/poem/ideas. They always responded more to the activity of writing a collective song…usually a daunting task for any group of musos!

Anele and I evolved a technique where each child picked one word. These words were pooled onto one card from which the children were tasked to write a piece that included all of the words. After five or so minutes, each child was asked to read aloud their writing.

From here we discussed and made notes about some of the common themes and uses of the words that had appeared in the children’s writing. We explained that were attempting to use elements of everyone’s writing to inform the lyrics of the collective song.

The children were then guided in the delicate task of preparing some possible lyrics for the song but not cementing them into any arrangement because they had not yet been married to the music.

Some guitar chords and a tempo related to the children’s words would be introduced at this stage. This often is where the children’s electricity would surge, as they were encouraged to experiment with vocalizing any of the lyric prompters in a style of their choice. Here the children would naturally engage and take the lead. It became a safe and acceptable zone for expression and eventually every child granted themselves permission to participate.

After some healthy chaos, a spark of melody or a way of phrasing certain words would stand out. Once we had this pivot (which often ended up being a catchy chorus) we could take the children step by step through the work of filling in the puzzle of the song’s arrangement. We would always refer to our collective word notes and try slotting them in a kind of narrative that was true to the emergent theme. This was always the most magical part. The children often would start standing as they sang or rapped and slowly huddled closer to the guitar, eager excited and galvanized by the collective imagination.

A sheer enraptured energy would take over as the children would happily workshop and rehearse the finer details (sometimes harmonies!) of different sections of the song over and over till they felt the song had settled as a whole.

To watch footage of the three Clanwilliam songs:

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