- Led by two professional Kid Pan Alley songwriters, students write their song in two 1-hour sessions held on consecutive days.
- The group collaborates to choose their song topic, write original lyrics and melody, and record the song once it’s complete.
- A live or online performance of the song – for the school and community — may be included in the workshop as circumstances permit.
Group Songwriting Programs
Kid Pan Alley’s professional teaching artists guide children to create an original song together as a team – sparking creativity, building community, and fostering respect for diverse perspectives.
How It Works
Themed Workshops & Partnerships
We can and have written songs about most every subject. Our programs can be tailored to different topics to suit the needs of the school or partner. We’ve created these programs with museums, orchestras, National Parks, libraries, mental health organizations, schools with special needs, teen programs, and senior citizen centers. Our most poplar programs include:
The Music Of Art: Songwriting Program
Developed in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Kid Pan Alley’s “The Music of Art” integrative arts programs inspire the children to explore the world of painting, photography and sculpture and to respond by creating original songs.
For many, this program marks their first visit to a museum. This workshop helps them see different art forms as the languages we use to express our deepest thoughts and feelings. They experience the story behind the work and learn how that story can be expressed visually and musically. Not only are the children exposed to great works of art, they develop a new context for it; making it part of their lives. After the children have written the songs, they do their own artwork inspired by the songs. Art inspiring song….song inspiring art. Brochure
Strike Up The Band: Orchestral Partnerships
Kid Pan Alley orchestra programs began with an extremely successful partnership with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra that resulted in the Grammy nominated Kid Pan Alley Nashville CD. Kid Pan Alley songwriters wrote songs with over 8,000 school children in 23 Nashville area elementary schools. After writing the songs, quartets of musicians from the Orchestra worked in the classroom with the kids and songwriters to arrange and record their songs. Some of these arrangements became the basis for the 19 songs that were recorded for the album by Kid Pan Alley and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra featuring artists including Amy Grant, Delbert McClinton, Kix Brooks, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Suzy Bogguss and many others.
Singing Their Stories: Literacy Program
“If I had a magic pencil like Malala has, I’d change the world in different ways.” That’s the start of a song inspired by the story of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. For women’s history month, the 4th graders at Pocahontas Elementary School read books about Malala and other historical women. Those books inspired songs.
The kids were so excited to share what they had learned…in song. The process of turning stories into lyrics was joyous and impactful, and the resulting songs are nothing short of incredible. We were inspired to create our new program, Singing Their Stories–songs inspired by literature.
It’s a literacy program dressed up in songwriters clothes–a powerful way to get kids excited about what they are learning. Brochure
Across The Ages: Intergenerational Program
In our intergenerational residencies, we bring elders from the community to talk with the children about their own experiences growing up 80 or 90 years ago. The young songwriters then write songs based on these oral histories. In addition, the children tell stories about what their life is like now and the elders write a song based on those experiences.
At the end of the week, both groups perform their songs in an afternoon school assembly and in an evening concert. Brochure
Frequently Asked Questions
- How long is each songwriting session and how many sessions to write a song? We generally write the songs in two 60-minute sessions though with the younger children it is better to do three 40-minute sessions. This allows time for exploration, brainstorming, voting, writing the first section of lyric and melody.
The second session begins with a review of the previous day’s work and then the remaining sections of the song are composed, and recorded for rehearsal purposes.
- How many children can participate in each session and how does it work? With online sessions, we prefer to work with 15 children at a time to give them plenty of individual attention. We can work with the students from their homes or work remotely with them from their classrooms depending on the structure the school has chosen. There are two Kid Pan Alley songwriters present for each session and we ask that you have a staff person or parent observe the session.As an educator, this is a golden opportunity to observe your students in a new learning environment, making connections to their background knowledge, incorporating current learning and working together as a learning community. While discipline is rarely an issue, your presence ensures that the songwriting session meets with minimal interruptions. Please help us keep the focus on the children by avoiding talking to colleagues while the session is in progress. And please remember that while it’s fine for the teacher to throw in an occasional idea, it is the children who are writing the song.
- When will the sessions be scheduled? KPA coordinates with school administration and team leaders to create the schedule. Most often, school appointed coordinator (music or lead teacher) creates a schedule that works around lunch, recess and planning time.
- What happens if a child is absent for one of the sessions? We encourage the classroom teacher to use the lyric sheets and recordings to practice with their class. It is inevitable that some children will be absent or required to miss a session for educational services. We do not exclude these children and do everything possible to make sure they are a part of the creative process.
- Can I get a copy of the lyrics and the song to practice with my students? A copy of the lyrics and a recording of the finished song performed by the KPA songwriters is provided to teachers and students once the second songwriting session is complete. If you would like to include the children’s voices on the recording, they can be recorded as they sing along with the track and then we will sync their voices to the recording. The lyrics and recording are sent electronically so that the teacher can use their computer to play the song for their students.
- Do my students have to sign the release form to participate? Release forms are required for students to participate in the program. We recognize that some of the forms get lost in the book bags or forgotten at home. A verbal agreement obtained by school staff is accepted. Please let us know at the beginning of the class if there is a child who can’t be photographed.
- How do I justify the loss of instructional time? Instructional time is precious and many teachers are concerned regarding the time away from a curriculum pacing guide or preparation for a pending assessment. The KPA songwriting process aligns with the language arts curriculum at every grade level. Students are learning about language, poetry, rhyme and finding their collective voice.It can be compared to the concept of authors purpose, creative writing and learning to generate and expand ideas. Of course, writing a song is fun, but do not let it fool you, the process is jammed packed with experiences that reinforce language arts concepts. For struggling readers and writers, it is a fun way to practice emerging skills in a safe, and supported large group environment.
- How can I use songwriting in my classroom if I am not a musician? As mentioned above, the songwriting process is reproducible. Students can create their own song based on any concept that is being taught. It is a great alternative project and does not require the teacher to have any music skill. The most important quality that the teacher needs it the willingness to include it as a way of students expressing themselves and conveying what they have learned. Most schools have a music teacher that can assist them with a simple accompaniment or even a parent with musical background that can volunteer some time.Not all songs need accompaniment. Students can use this process to create poetry, write a short story, or to write from a prompt. The process is versatile.
- Are special education and limited English speaking students included? All students are included in the songwriting residency. It is an inclusive program. If there are any accommodations that are required by and IEP or 504 plans, the KPA staff will work with the teacher to ensure that the accommodations are being met during the residency program.
Other Themed Programs
- One Little Song Can Change the World: A fun and interactive 45-minute concert featuring performances of KPA songs that focus on respect– for the earth, each other, and ourselves. Brochure
- The Stories We Share: Guest speakers share experiences from their own lives as inspiration for their original song; often conducted as an intergenerational or intercultural program. Brochure
- Everyone Has Something To Say (Special Needs Program): We believe everyone has something to say–a story to tell. But, sometimes they don’t have a way to tell it. Kid Pan Alley has been working with kids profoundly impacted by autism. Many of them can’t speak. Working with pictures, communication devices and deep listening, we try to capture their hopes and dreams in an authentic way in song. Each child has a peer partner from a local school. We work with those children to develop ways of listening and empathy. It’s challenging and also some of the most rewarding work we’ve done. It is amazing to see them on stage participating in a song that they wrote and to see the tears of joy in the eyes of their parents. We also provide programs for children with a wide variety of special needs. Video
- Music & Dialogue Teen Program: In this collaborative songwriting workshop taught by Kid Pan Alley’s professional songwriters, teens ages 13-17 will have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of songwriting while engaging in meaningful dialogue on the themes of “listening” and “being heard” as well as was “justice” means to them. They will share perspectives, learn from each other, and work together to create an original song based on their shared perspectives. Video
- Write In This Book Literacy Program: Kid Pan Alley and award-winning children’s author Mary Amato work together to inspire and support children in the creative writing process through collaborative journal writing and songwriting. The children learn how to develop and write in character in the collaborative journal writing process inspired by Amato’s book, “Write in this Book.” Then, what they have written in their classroom book becomes the inspiration for song. This residency helps children explore, practice and share as they grow into writers. Brochure
- Themed Workshops: Students explore a topic together and write a song based on their shared perspectives (examples: diversity/inclusion, mental health, nature/environment, history, etc.).
Testimonials From Teachers, Students & Parents
What Teachers, Parents and Administrators Say About Kid Pan Alley
“Kid Pan Alley is a truly unique project and one, which honestly offers magic in the real world. The workshops create an environment, in which children learn while creating and, in the end, are empowered by the experience. The songs that grow out of this sharing are fresh and downright good. As Manager of Statewide Programs and Exhibitions at the VMFA, I work with every community to bring the arts to each citizen of Virginia. Kid Pan Alley is one of the most community focused I have ever seen.” – Jeffrey Allison, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
“Throughout the song writing process, the students are taken on a journey of discovery that ignites their imaginations and ability to create. The experience of working with professional musicians that help turn their ideas into works of art is truly remarkable. I have witnessed students who might have difficulty connecting to the world around them, find their voice and learn how to use it. I was particularly touched as one student created a beautiful and complex melody line. This student has not shown this type of ability in the past, and this self-discovery has produced a better level of engagement in the weeks afterward. It is also a joy for me to be able to join and help the students and find that I become lost in the magic of the process myself. “ – Heidi Johnson-Taylor, Music Teacher, Patrick Henry School for Sciences & Art, Richmond, VA
“This was one of the most amazing and valuable residencies that I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. I loved the way that the songwriters honored each and every idea that was put forward by the children and then helped to gently guide them to the final product.” – Hilary Sales, Music Teacher, Union Elementary School, Montpelier, VT
“Children learn to the core when they are engaged in meaningful work that is relevant to their life experiences and honors their ideas. ‘Stand Up and Be Heard: One Little Song Can Change the World’ draws children into the important work of exploring and expressing who they are and what they want to see in their world. The assembly beautifully supports a school’s character development curriculum, building on universal concepts in the words of children themselves. Children deserve to be heard; this assembly helps us listen more closely.” – ElizaBeth McCay, PhD, Principal, Jackson-Via Elementary, Charlottesville, VA
“As I watched the songs develop over the course of the week I was amazed at the array of extension activities that stem from your program. For example, we could incorporate poetry, chorus, music/songwriting, recording, performing arts, videography, and content related topics to the mix. Thank you so much for working with our students and showing them that they have the imagination, creativity, mental capacity, and courage to write and perform their own compositions.” – T H. Renteria, Ph.D., Education Director, Volcano School for Arts & Sciences, Volcano, HI
“Seeing and hearing the songs written and preformed by our students brought staff and parents –literally- to tears as they witnessed the heart-felt expression of their inner beliefs. This experience can be a challenging act for some children however through acceptance, and encouragement Kid Pan Alley successfully incorporated all students in the progression of the creative song writing process. All student ideas were valued and encouraged…Every school in the country should have a KPA residency. We hope to continue our relationship with Paul and Donnie/KPA for years to come so that all students eventually participate in the song writing process and find their true song.”- Owen Bradley, Principal, Union Elementary School, Union, VT
“One boy in my class jumped in feet first and was incredible. He often has difficulty expressing himself but this opened up a new path for him.” – Kathy Dowd, Jackson-Via Elementary, Charlottesville, VA
“It has been a couple of weeks since I attended the Jouett concert but I am still thrilled with the performance. It was evident on the faces and in the voices of those children that the experience changed their lives. It was fascinating to watch the process as it unfolded and to witness the final concert. You are able to give “voice” to children’s thoughts and feelings which is quite an accomplishment!! It is my hope that Kid Pan Alley can return to Louisa County to enrich our students.”- Dr. Deborah D. Pettit, Superintendent. Louisa County Public Schools
“You inspired me in ways that will change my teaching for years to come. I am going to incorporate a writing unit in the spring each year and have a showcase at the end of the year. Perhaps even do some CDs as a fundraiser.” – Hilary Parks, Whitsett Elementary, Nashville, TN
“I was hesitant at first about taking class time for a project that didn’t cover the SOLs; however, they addressed poetry writing SOLs for fourth grade. They really did well teaching figurative language such as similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia and alliteration. Rhyme scheme and poetry patterns were also present in their teachings. I really appreciate this workshop and I know my students did. Their final product was awesome.” – Sandra Clement, Blue Ridge Elementary, Ararat, VA
“I was surprised at some of the children who generally remain very quiet during regular music class time, eagerly and uncharacteristically bringing forth their comments and ideas. Suggestions were not hard to come by and it was a joy to watch the children’s ideas unfold before my eyes.” -Evelyn Oyster, Wakefield Country Day School, Flint Hill, VA
“Kid Pan Alley was one of the best experiences that our students have ever had at our school!…This experience will have direct and residual effects for years to come for the students that participated. The students are inspired to take a greater interest in the arts. The students are encouraged to do better academically in school.” – Tom Caton, Principal, Elkin Elementary School, Elkin, NC
“The wonderful Kid Pan Alley Program ignites children’s creativity at a level that encourages them to use skills, talents and imagination in a new dimension – in other words, awesome!” – Brenda Phillips, Principal, Cary Elementary, Richmond, VA
“The confidence levels just soared as they realized that they really could create something meaningful themselves.”- Ramona Kahle, Woolwine Elementary School, Woolwine, VA
“Thank you for the remarkable work you did putting together the whole Kid Pan Alley effort in Albemarle. My daughters both performed last Saturday at The Paramount and it was a thrilling, confidence building, memorable evening for them. Especially for my special needs child, who has a hard time with crowds, this was a barrier breaking evening for her.”- Cale Elementary School Parent, Charlottesville, VA
“Ever since I worked with Kid Pan Alley, I learned that things can be difficult, but to keep on going to new doors or levels, get a job and live a wonderful life. Thanks for giving me the courage to keep on going.” – 3rd grade student
“When I first thought of Kid Pan Alley, I didn’t even want to participate, but as I started thinking about it, I thought I would be interested in songwriting. So in the future, I am going to continue to try and be a music teacher….Thank you. I enjoyed you making a difference in my life.” – 5th Grade Students, Forestdale Elementary School, Fairfax County, VA
“I have had the privilege of seeing Kid Pan Alley (KPA) grow from an initial experiment with elementary school students here in Rappahannock County into a national program that has been a gift to thousands of students across the country. Watching Paul work with a group of young people is a delight: the students are thoroughly engaged as they draw on their own life experiences and their own sense of humor to create both lyrics and melody. Singing their own creations along with first class musicians at the community concert which is the end of every KPA residency is a thrill for the students and an equally wonderful evening for the community, not only sharing some great music but also celebrating the creative capacity of the young people involved.” – Sallie Morgan, Director, Community Support Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board and Area Agency on Aging