Welcome to Kid Pan Alley

Imagine if you were a child writing a song in your classroom with a professional songwriter. Then suppose that your song was recorded by a world-class recording artist like Delbert McClinton, Cracker, Sissy Spacek, Amy Grant, Kix Brooks, Suzy Bogguss, Corey Harris, or Raul Malo. You’d be changed forever. You’d have learned about teamwork, the value of everyone’s ideas, embracing diversity and collaboration through the group songwriting process. You might start writing songs to express your feelings rather than striking out in anger. You’d feel really listened to and proud of what you had done. And just imagine that this was the most fun you ever had in school. Well, this is what Kid Pan Alley is doing in schools throughout the country—inspiring kids use their imaginations—to be creators of their own music, not just consumers of popular culture. We’ve written over 2,700 songs with more than 40,000 children and we’ve got to say kids make the greatest co-writers. Come on inside and hear some of their creations. And, if you are so inclined, help us bring Kid Pan Alley to your community.

Here is a great introduction to what we do at Kid Pan Alley narrated by Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock with Kathy Mattea and Sharon Lawrence

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Kid Pan Alley a $10,000 grant for a collaborative songwriting project with the Shenandoah National Park, the Shenandoah Park Trust, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This project is designed to bring children to the Park to experience its beauty, majesty, and importance to our natural and national history and to write songs inspired by that experience. Read more

Thanks to the generosity of our friends, Kid Pan Alley raised $26,442 on Give Local Piedmont Day. We came in 5th out of over 160 organizations and were 1st in organizations with budgets of less than $250,000! We thank all of you for making this day such a success!

Our artistic director, Paul Reisler, has been awarded one of eight 2-year fellowships from the Jubilation Foundation to help support his work. The Jubilation Foundation helps individuals with exceptional talent for helping young people feel fully alive through rhythm as expressed in music and dance.

He has also been awarded a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst. The VCCA is an artist colony that provides uninterrupted space for artists to do their creative work. Paul will be working on the Kid Pan Alley musical as well as some instrumental compositions.

Writing with Kids Who Can't Speak photo WritingSongsKidsWhoDontSpeakRappNewsM_zpsnymh4rjw.jpg

Washington Post-Praises of songwriting program photo WashingtonPost12_07_16wMasthead_m_zpss6ltbcra.jpg

Listen to a different story on WCVE-FM 88.9 on Kid Pan Alley's Music of Art Program with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Here's a feature from WETA-PBS on the Kid Pan Alley National Symphony collaboration

Morning Edition on NPR: host Renee Montagne interviews Paul Reisler, Kid Pan Alley founder and Artistic Director.

Kid Pan Alley Alley on Channel 7 in Covington, VA

A story from ABC News 10 in Stockton, CA about our project with the Stockton Symphony. We had 7 concerts with the full orchestra from Jan 17-22.

Kid Pan Alley performs with National Symphony--NBC, Ch. 4 News

WMRA-FM, the NPR station in Harrisonburg (90.7 fm), interviewed Kid Pan Alley's Artistic Director, Paul Reisler and songwriting assistant Heather Mae. Listen in as Tom Graham, host of Virginia Insights, shares the Kid Pan Alley story with listeners.

West Hawai'i Today: Kid Pan Alley was the lead story on the front page in the largest daily newspaper on the Big Island. Kohala Students Make Music With Pros:

Kid Pan Alley at Kilmer Center, Vienna, VA
This great story about the writing of Kilmer Center's Alma Mater song. Kilmer Center is a school for children who are seriously impacted with autism. Sun Gazette:

Voice of America on Kid Pan Alley's songwriter in residence program at Orr Elementary School in Washington, DC.

Fall 2016 Schedule

Sept 19-23 • Washington, VA • Rappahannock Elementary—SNP residency

Sept 23 • Washington, VA • Rappahannock Elementary concert • 7pm

Sept 26-30 • Waynesboro, VA • Westwood Hills Elementary—SNP residency

Sept 30 • Waynesboro, VA • Wayne Theatre concert • 7pm

Oct 12-13 • Lacey Springs, VA • Lacey Springs Elementary residency

Oct 19 • Washington, DC • Levine School of Musicw • Paul Reisler songwriting workshop for adults • 6pm

Nov 14-18 • Luray, VA • Luray Elementary • KPA residency

Nov 18 • Luray, VA • Luray Elementary • concert

Dec 3 • Fairfax, VA • George Mason University • Concert reading of new Kid Pan Alley musical

Dec 5-7 • Warrenton, VA • Brumfield Elementary • KPA residency

Dec 7 • Warrenton, VA • Brumfield Elementary • concert

Check back for additional fall events to be announced

During SNP residencies, the children write songs inspired by visits to the Shenandoah National Park. More into
Download songs from past residencies!

Two songs from our Shenandoah National Park residencies with the 4th and 5th grade at Westwood Hills Elementary

Two songs from our Rappahannock residency with Shenandoah National Park residency

A song from a summer camp we did at Summer Stage in Amherst, VA

Two songs from our Shenandoah National Park project with Luray Elementary.

Two wonderful songs from Cedar Point Elementary in Manassas

Our work with developmentally disabled non-verbal children at Ridge Ruxton school.

A great song about New York from Orange Elementary

An Easter song from our recent residency at Central Elementary

A beautiful song from our recent residency in Hawai'i

Kid Pan Alley recently performed songs we wrote at Chris Yung Elementary with the Manassas Symphony at the Hylton Center. Watch the performances here.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Patrick Henry School of Arts and Sciences. A song inspired by a painting of Marion Anderson about her historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when she wasn't allowed to perform at Constitution Hall because of her race.
We've started our Wonder & Reflection--Songs of the Shenandoah National Park project where we bring the kids to the Park and they write songs about the experience.

Just to give you a little idea of what we’re seeing, Cheryl Toth, our Executive Director wrote this about a magical experience there last week.

September 9th, 2016
The Bear and the Deer
The title of this email sounds like an Aesop Fable, but in fact, it is a true story. I spent the first half of today with students from Hearthstone School visiting the Shenandoah National Park as part of their residency program next week.

The weather was a breezy 95 degrees with gnats and flies in abundance doing what all gnats and flies do. :) As we moved across the trails into the meadow (Big Meadow) the students found joy in the simple things, caterpillars, spiders, milkweed, golden rod, and soft grasses. They branched off from each other with a hand held device used to capture and inspect small insects. They danced; laughed, calling out to each other to come and share their discoveries…then something very unusual happened...

Off in the distance, one of the children spotted a bear… "A bear…a bear?…where?…there!…” This was the too familiar sound at such a sighting. But something was different…this bear was sprinting across the meadow…yes, running at full speed…a most unusual sight as most bears I have seen just slumber along, turning over trash cans and raiding hen houses. As we watched in amazement, a whitetail deer darted out from the grasses. Could it be??? Was the bear after the deer?

Park Ranger Mike said that bears do not chase deer. "It is a waste of their energy.” But sure enough, we witnessed an adult black bear chase a deer into the woods. I quickly opened my iPhone and tried to capture it in video. I did get a glimpse of the historic chase…but what is priceless are the conversations of the children and the ranger as we all witnessed this amazing event. We were all grateful that the bear did not catch the deer…we were not prepared to witness such a “National Geographic” moment. While this Olympic sprint was a first for us all, the butterflies and caterpillars, spiders and milkweed still captured the imagination of the children today.

Our work with the Shenandoah National Park has been incredibly rewarding, igniting the explorer inside all of us. So in true Aesop style: The moral of this story is…Life will gift you with wonderful experiences, when you are present to receive it! Today, I was present and I got a gift that I will cherish forever.

April 25, 2016 by Paul Reisler, Kid Pan Alley founder and Artistic Director
Writing Songs with Children Who Can't Speak

Last week Kid Pan Alley songwriters Paul Reisler and Sahffi Lynne worked with developmentally disabled children at Ridge Ruxton School in Baltimore. It was an unusual residency—all of the children were profoundly impacted with multiple disabilities. None of them had language.

Writing a song with kids that don’t speak is a challenge. It forces us to listen on a much deeper level. These kids have a story to tell, but perhaps, not a way to tell it.

We hoped to capture their hopes and dreams in song. Each of the 5 songs we wrote reflects their ideas and how they see the world. Of course, the question is how to get meaningful, authentic participation in the songwriting process from kids without our normal method of communication--words. Fortunately, we had some previous experience with this having done several other programs like this in the past in special schools in Fairfax County.

Some of the kids had communication devices. They could tap a picture and it would speak the word. A couple could type a bit and their device would say what they had typed. Others could just squeeze your right hand for a “yes” and your left hand for a “no.” Some had some basic sign language, and with others you just had to look into their eyes and figure it out.

We partnered each child with normally developing children from one of the other area schools. We worked with those peers on how to interpret what their partners were trying to say. They bonded, they hugged, they developed an empathy unusual in children of that age. It was beautiful to watch.

We worked with pictures. The staff had chosen themes for each class and we made small cards with pictures of words that related to the topics. The topics were friendship, emotions, nature, Romeo and Juliet (yes, the older kids were studying Romeo and Juliet), and graduation.

The children would select cards relating to the topic and we’d get started by writing a section using the words from those cards. There was a yes/no vote for every idea. Gradually, then a verse or chorus took shape. One of the peers would read the first line. We’d clap the rhythm. The peers would hold their friends’ hands and clap with them.

Then another would read the line again and with our hands we’d show them the pitches of the line they had spoken by moving our hands up and down in the air. When we speak, we are really singing to each other—we speak in rhythm and on pitch. In song, we just amplify the arc of the spoken melody—perhaps going up a bit higher or lower, or stretching out a rhythm.

Finally, we’d ask someone to sing it. Sometimes the melody came perfectly formed from one of the peers. Other times, one of the autistic children would make a sound—a cry of excitement, a laugh, and we’d try to use that in the melody.

Line by line, we’d write more verses, a chorus and even sometimes a bridge until the song was done. The Romeo and Juliet song was particularly challenging. You can’t just say they met, fell in love, and died. Shakespeare wrote a very complex story and characters like Montagues and Capulets just don’t sing very well. Eight verses later, we were done.

At schools like this, they start at age 4 and graduate in their early twenties. Two of them were graduating this year. We wrote their song, “I Know You Must Be Sad to Leave,” with the Sign Language Chorus. Listen to the song and see a video of the week. It’s really moving.

At the end of the week we had two concerts—an afternoon one for all 200 students at the school and an evening performance for their parents. We wanted them to have meaningful participation in the performance. We programmed arpeggios into my Ipad and as they touched different places on the screen, Sahffi on French Horn and I would improvise with them. They introduced the songs with their communication devices and they all came on stage for our “Best Friends” song at the end.

I’d look over at the kids and see the joy and excitement on their faces. I’d look at their parents in the audience, many of whom were weeping, and I’d think just how lucky I am to be able to do this work—to give voice to those who don’t have one.

The work we do in schools across the country, especially in situations where the challenges are so great, is a reflection of the creative and artistic spirit of Rappahannock. Kid Pan Alley began right here at Rappahannock Elementary 16 years ago. We hope you will join us on Tuesday, May 3rd for the annual Give Local Piedmont fundraising event. This day of giving recognizes all of the organizations that make a difference in our community. Go directly to Kid Pan Alley’s page .

March 15, 2015 by Cheryl Toth, Kid Pan Alley Executive Director
How can one day or one week of an event or interaction with an artist make an impact? This is a question and often a criticism of many arts programs today. In attempts to address this to funders and Arts Commissions, I took some time to reflect on the question.

What can make an immediate lasting impact and how does it happen?

We do not live in art galleries, yet when we visit a museum, our visual perception and emotional connection to art leaves immediate and lasting impressions. The first time I went to the Hirshhorn museum I saw the Calder Mobile hanging between the levels, I stopped dead in my tracks to watch it move and the awe of seeing one section influence and impact the movement of the other. The half step interval played in the lower octave of the keyboard reminds me of the imminent shark attack. The first time I watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, the imprint was immediate. So why is it so hard to acknowledge and accept that impact?

Educators, and I happen to be one of them, are trained to look for data in numbers that tell us something has or has not happened. Standards’ based testing is a great example of this. If a child passes the test, we have data saying they know the content. If they fail, we use data to say the child doesn’t know the content. Many teachers would argue that data is not the only indicator of successful learning.

Thus the question about impact or imprinting comes to mind. Can we learn something with only one interaction whether it is with an object, a person or an experience? I would argue that who we are and what we determine to be our values are significantly impacted and influenced by “one-time”, “once heard” interactions.

In reflection, I realized that I attached emotions to many experiences. “I loved that, I want to do it again.” “That scared me to death, I’ll never do that again.” I laugh thinking about the phrase, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Many of our behaviors are initiated by one-time interactions, influenced by people we know and some who are strangers. If there is a repeat of those interactions, then the behavior is reinforced. That doesn’t diminish the “first time” effect. The first time I rode a horse, the first time I attended a funeral, the first time I heard Martin Luther King speak.

Our lives are embedded with first times. So, why do we say that you cannot learn a skill or be influenced by the act of creating a song if it only happens once? There are many experiences in our lives that occur one time, by design or by chance In my reflection, I can list one time events from my childhood to now. Can they be measured? No…they only happened once. Did they change my life? Some did and others molded and influenced my perspective. The most meaningful one time events led me to seek out more experiences, thus determining my career, my passions and my convictions.

This past week, a family came up to me after a Kid Pan Alley concert and shared how delighted they were with the program and how amazed they were that their daughter came home singing everyday. By their side was their daughter, smiling and proud. How do you measure that? Will that experience shaper her life or change her future?

Will she compose her own song or find artistic ways of expression later in life? If we had a crystal ball, we might be able to see the future and answer those questions. But until that time, we continue to teach creativity in hopes that it will imprint on the generations of children who will be the gatekeepers of the future.

July 20, 2014 Maestro Lorin Maazel died last week. He was the preeminent American conductor having conducted every major orchestra in the world. He'd been music director for many orchestras including New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Munich Symphony and others.

He was one of our neighbors and I have heard some of the best music of my life from orchestras conducted by him at his Castleton Festival and at the NY Philharmonic. Kid Pan Alley exists thanks to the support of the Maestro and his wife, Dietlinde. They were one of the major supporters of our first album. Here's a poem I wrote to mark his passing.

In Memory – Maestro of All Maestros
the riderless podium
the empty pot
the open score
brilliantly lit in the darkness
but minus the maestro
the notes were but fly specks
upon the page
they were not the music

we stood
we clapped
a thunderous tribute
to genius
it would have gone on
for hours
had they not turned on the lights
had they not started to play
as best they could
without him
but not even hours
not even days
nor months, nor years of applause
would not have fully acknowledged
the gift he gave to music
to us

i watched him intently
so many, many times
from the first concert in the theatre
where Maazel and Bronfman and Frankel
played the Tchaikovsky Am
though virtually every concert in castleton
to london for 1984 and to New York for his final mahler 8th’s
i watched the subtle minuet the tip of his baton (was it the one mahler used?)
the dance of his bow upon his strad
i watched him conduct
with his eyebrows
and his glance
and the glare
of an unapproving eye
but it was not the gesture it was not movement, nor the motion but his will
for his will was enough
to lead a symphony of a thousand
or a quartet of eight
and it will be enough
to lead all the music
to come
in this festival
we have all come to love
thank you, thank you, thank you
maestro of all maestros
thank you

Paul Reisler July 19, 2014

December 21, 2013.


Dear Friends, Like most organizations, we usually spend a bit of time at year-end reflecting on our work over the past year. This generally means compiling and evaluating statistics from last year - how many songs we wrote with how many children, the attendance for our concerts, etc. KPA did a lot this last year, including a 2-week residency in Rappahannock, and projects with the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts where art was the inspiration for the songs. But this year, we found ourselves... Click Here

Upcoming concerts from our Wonder & Reflection–Songs of the Shenandoah National Park project:

September 23, 7 pm • Washington, VA • Rappahannock Elementary with Kid Pan Alley’s Paul Reisler, Sahffi Lynne, Marshall Keys and children from Rappahannock Elementary, Hearthstone and CCLC. Co-sponsored by RAAC

September 30, 7 pm • Waynesboro, VA • Wayne Theatre • Paul Reisler, Cheryl Toth and students from Westwood Hills Elementary.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Kid Pan Alley a $10,000 grant for a collaborative songwriting project with the Shenandoah National Park, the Shenandoah Park Trust, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This project is designed to bring children to the Park to experience its beauty, majesty, and importance to our natural and national history and to write songs inspired by that experience.  Read more

“Kid Pan Alley is the quintessential program for helping kids to experience their creative power, their voice, and their own self-expression. This is the kind of experience that changes lives.”

Kathy Mattea, Grammy Award Winner
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