Wednesday, July 21, 2010


There is lots of singing in AUGUST TO JUNE because there was lots of singing in my classroom, and in our school music is a major element. Early on it was mainly parents coming in, playing music very informally with kids who wanted to stand around the piano and sing. After a few years we hired Sarah Whitman, who introduced us the work of Carl Orff. Orff-Schulwerk builds on folk traditions, dancing, rhythm instruments, xylophones, and improvisation. We’ve since raised money to train later music teachers in Orff techniques, and have been very happy with the interactive lively music sessions it produces. Our plays always include child produced songs that are supported by the improvisation students experience in music classes.

One thing that happened as a result of such successful music classes was that for a while there was less music in the classroom! Teachers unintentionally left it to the music teachers. One day a parent complained to me that there wasn’t enough music in our school. I started to protest, when I realized what he was saying. I wasn’t singing with my kids, parents were rarely playing music with kids: it had been “relegated” to a large extent to the music class. I can’t thank that dad enough for pointing that out to me! I immediately began singing with my students! Such a treat! My fear that they might not want to sing with me was gone in a minute. Kids love to sing!

We had had a special birthday song for quite a while, but when music teacher Kate Munger, came on board, she loved to develop songs with kids that reflected their experiences. Some songs became “our” songs for saying good by to a student who was leaving, for singing at certain times of year, for welcoming the day, or going on a hike.

When I made a list of all the songs sung in the film I was shocked at how many there were. Some had been with us for so long, and come to us so circuitously, that the current music teachers, Tom Finch and Anny Owen, were unclear who the authors were. Thus began a months long search. Each time I thought I had them all covered, it would turn out that one I had thought was in the public domain actually was written by a modern musician. Slowly but surely I have located just about all of the composers/lyricists of the songs in the film, and almost all of them have been very gracious about letting us use their material at no cost. We will credit them with pleasure!

The one exception was the only song that is very well known. We’d used 11 seconds during a music class with Anny Owen where the kids were practicing “Moonglow.” We liked it for many reasons. It was an upbeat lift after some serious classroom interactions. Ivan is wearing a shirt we see him silk screening in an earlier part of the film, and he is participating easily in the class, a great step forward for him. Even though the kids have made a mistake, and Anny has to stop to correct them, everyone is very involved, and you feel their ease working through something that requires repetition and refinement.

Whether is was my inexperience, or the way the Internet is used by music companies, it was not easy to reach the companies that owned the rights to “Moonglow.” Eventually I found out that one company owned one third of the rights, and another two thirds. Many emails followed, but while everyone was very nice, the bottom line was that we were offered a two year contract for $500 for 2/3 use, and would most likely be paying $250 for the other 1/3, plus we couldn’t get a clear answer about what would happen after that.

I investigated a documentary concept called “fair use” which means that the use is part of a reportage, and not meant as a performance, but it is a very fuzzy area, and in the end the best informal advise we got was not to use the footage unless we paid for it. And so we very regretfully cut “Moonglow.” Sigh!

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