In the Press

In the Press

Performing Arts Charter students find song inspiration in personal poems

The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Created 04/19/2012
By StevePfarrer

First came a quartet – three female singers and a guy strumming an acoustic guitar – singing lyrics about “heading up into the clouds.” Next was a short instrumental workout among four other musicians, a pop melody that included piano, drums, guitar and bass. Then it was the turn of five young women, singing a Gospel-tinged tune about drinking buttermilk.

For many students at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, playing music is a regular part of the curriculum. But in this case, middle school students like Celeste Amidon were taking on a special assignment: turning the poems of inner-city children into songs by creating melodies and arrangements for the words.

“We wanted to do something that was upbeat and optimistic, because that’s what the poem’s all about,” said Amidon, one of three singers working on an early musical version of the poem “We’re Heading Up,” about succeeding in life. “This is a lot of fun. We’re taking something that’s really personal and trying to say the same thing with music.”

For the last seven years, PVPA Middle School students have been collaborating with elementary school students from Harlem in New York City in what’s known as the MAPS program: Music and Poetry Synchronized. Fourth- through sixth-graders from Harlem’s Mosaic Preparatory Academy, P.S. 375, write poems based on their life experiences, and 12 of these works are then sent to PVPA. Seventh- and eighth-graders there then spend several weeks turning them into songs, writing original melodies in a variety of styles, including rock, pop, a cappella, folk and jazz.

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Music, poetry bond students

The Republican
Wednesday, June 01, 2011

SOUTH HADLEY – One group attends a middle school in the lush hills of South Hadley, the other a Harlem school with bars on the windows and security guards in the halls.

Once a year for the past six years, the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and the Mosaic Academy of Harlem have come together with explosive energy, thanks to an innovative program called “Music and Poetry Synchronized.”

Each year, in the fall semester, the kids in the Harlem school study poetry and write their own poems. A dozen of their poems are sent to the school in South Hadley, where seventh and eighth graders use them as lyrics to compose songs and rehearse them all through the spring semester.

The climax comes at the end of the school year, in a stage show hosted by one school or the other. Last week, it was Harlem’s turn to travel to South Hadley.

The meetings are eye-openers for the kids.

“It gives them a new perspective,” said Daniel Roberts, teacher at the school in Harlem.

This year, 11 fourth-graders from New York participated, as did 17 songwriters, guitarists, drummers, keyboardists and vocalists from the performing arts school.

After pizza and games, the show began in the auditorium. Each child read a poem, whereupon a band of middle-schoolers climbed on stage and played the song they had composed for it.

The youths sang about a face found in the trash, the feel of hot sand on the beach, a ghost train coming down the track.

“The germs are getting groggy,” wailed an adolescent singer about being sick in bed. “I love the rain,” three songstresses harmonized into a microphone.

The multi-talented youths regrouped for each song.

Tom Willits, the teacher who handles the Pioneer Valley Performing side of the project, said each participating student gets a book of the poems and a CD.

The program also has its own web site,, and Roberts said there are plans next year to arrange Internet chats, so the kids will know each other before they meet for the show.

Everything about Pioneer Valley Performing Arts spells theater. Students think nothing of topping a flounced purple miniskirt with a zebra-striped vest and silver belt, or wearing workboots with a skirt, or pink plaid sneakers with a trucker’s cap, and they carry it off with a wonderful aplomb.

Willits is trying to bring the project to schools in Holyoke and Springfield.


Poetry project links New York, local kids

The Republican
Wednesday, June 06, 2007

SOUTH HADLEY – “I feel like I’m famous,” 11-year-old Petra M. L. Shrieves said recently after hearing one of her poems performed as a song by seventh- and eighth-graders at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School.

A fifth-grader at Public School 101 in Harlem, Petra was one of 10 students who had traveled from Harlem to the local school as part of the Music and Poetry Synchronized Program. It involves students in the Harlem school’s poetry class writing poems last fall and in February sending them to the local school.

The art school’s song writing and vocal technique students then set the works to music and performed the works recently when the Harlem students came for a visit.

Ten girls sang the poem “Growing and Rising” written by Petra to a peppy, rock ‘n’ roll type beat.

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