By Amanda DK

For the past couple years I have been involved with 826LA – the local branch of a national organization helping kids improve their writing skills. Founded by Dave Eggers, 826LA offers a variety of programs including after school tutoring, field trips, student publications, in school tutoring, and my favorite, weekend workshops. Workshops are taught by volunteers who work with the Director of Education to develop an idea or area of expertise into a full fledged two hour experience, culminating in a final, writing-related, product. One such workshop I recently taught explored the relationship between the writing, performance and music.

826LA has a long relationship with the music world. In 2009 they hosted a Battle of the Bands. Then came Chickens in Love in 2010 – an online pledge-a-thon culminating in a full-length album featuring the likes of She & Him, Fiona Apple, Summer Darling, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and more singing songs written by 826LA students. Neko Case even raffled off her 1967 Mercury Cougar (as seen on the cover of her album Middle Cyclone) for the organization.

While my workshop at the Hammer Museum might not have been nearly as cool as winning a priceless car, it did bring music and writing together in a unique way. I called it “From Song To Scene (And In Between)” probably more easily explained by saying, “backwards music supervision.” To get there, I first played them three songs and had a quick discussion after each. “What is this song about?” I asked after a minute of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” “Where would this be playing?” They looked at me like it was a trick question, but answered without hesitation that the song could be heard at a party or dance. Then I played a track from the TRON: Legacy score called “Recognizer.” We again discussed what could be happening while this song was playing – rain, two big things coming toward each other and a fight, were some of the answers. The last song was an Italian language song, which stumped them, but still some kids chimed in that the song might be heard at a fancy ball or opera house.

At this time the participants were divided into groups and given a laptop, a CD, pencils and paper (and a volunteer). The assignment was to listen to the song on the CD and write a short scene to accompany it. Each group had to perform their scene in front of everyone, and the song had to be playing in the background.

Since there was a performance element to the final product, I thought it would be nice to film the kids showing off their work (and brought some popcorn to boot).

Special thanks to Elliot Glass for filming the performances and editing the videos!

1)  “Fiahbras” courtesy of Music Dealers

2)  “The Song With No Name” written by Keith Waggoner

3)  “Covert” courtesy of Audio Network / “The 1812 Overture” courtesy of DL Music

4)  “Lucan’s Dream” courtesy of Audio Network

5) “School of Cool” courtesy of Audio Network