an integrated language and fine arts program using songwriting, performance and recording
The SongCatcher is an effective and unique fine arts program for children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The concept is simple: school children co-write songs with established, professional songwriter James O’Halloran. From brainstorming an idea to holding the finished CD in their hands, students gain experience writing, reading, editing, recording, performing and promoting their creative vision.
The program was originally conceived and implemented at Baboquivari Middle and High School in 2007 and still continues today. Administrators and teachers cite a reduction in gang activity, an increase in student attendance, higher math and reading scores, and an improved sense of community as demonstration of the program’s worth.
If there was ever doubt as to the benefits of children learning through the arts, this program has the quantitative and anecdotal results to prove otherwise. Music simulates abstract thought as well as cognitive thinking. It promotes creativity and development of otherwise unused areas of the brain. But to the students, it is simply lots of fun and a great opportunity for them to say what they want to say and have an audience who listens.
In the songwriting workshop, students begin by reading and studying the lyrics of history’s finest writers from Bob Dylan and the Beatles to Cole Porter and Joni Mitchell. They develop their own ideas and work on prewriting their own lyrics. During this initial phase, they are supported by their peers in group sessions and by James O’Halloran and given constructive feedback and suggestions to improve the writer’s message and meaning. Students learn how to convey concepts with effective clarity and lyrical sensibility. In addition to poetic devices such as metaphor, rhyme, alliteration and allusion, many of the tips from the professional world of songwriting, such as chronological order, are explored which satisfy many state core standards for curriculum.
The overarching philosophy is belonging and believing. We use songwriting and recording arts to break through the negativity of drugs and violence and to get young people feeling they belong to a community with a family, a school and a sense of place. Arts to allow them to believe in their futures and the value of education. Not only do we give the students a voice to express themselves but also assure them that someone is listening to what they have to say.
Recently, the program has gained notoriety. It was cited in a Carnegie-Melon report as increasing student engagement and attendance with enhanced curriculum offerings. It has caught the attention of legendary activist, songwriter, and UNESCO World Heritage Spokeswoman, Buffy Sainte-Marie and National Public Radio. Although the SongCatcher program sets out to improve reading comprehension, math scores and writing skills, it also promotes abstract and cognitive thought, builds teamwork and self-esteem, and develops social skills. The true success of the program is that the kids think it’s really fun and are extremely engaged.