Folk singer and artist in residence Dave Nachmanoff worked with Jay Harstad's fifth graders at Chatfield Elementary on Tuesday, Nov. 19, to write a song for a concert the students would be performing with him the next day.
Folk singer and artist in residence Dave Nachmanoff worked with Jay Harstad's fifth graders at Chatfield Elementary on Tuesday, Nov. 19, to write a song for a concert the students would be performing with him the next day.
"We're going to Grandma's on Dave's guitar, we got a flat tire so we didn't get far...

"Are we there yet, are we there yet?"

"It's about a vacation gone wrong, but how?" asked folk singer and artist in residence Dave Nachmanoff, stretching Chatfield Elementary School fifth graders' imaginations. Nachmanoff visited the school and collaborated with the students on Tuesday, Nov. 19, to write a song to be performed the next day at a school-wide concert featuring the tunes they wrote together.

His question came after he first explained what the tenets of songwriting include.

"A song has a chorus, but if a chorus has too much information, then it becomes a verse instead," he said. "But if a song has just a chorus, it would be boring, so we have to change the words, or the lyrics, to keep it interesting. The second part is the verse - every time the verse comes around, the music will be the same, but the lyrics will be different."

Nachmanoff also explained that some songs have a third part called a "bridge" that introduces a new part of the song and gives a break from the repetition.

"So now that you know that, in five minutes or less, I want you to brainstorm some song topic ideas and I have three words of advice for you to keep in mind - write what you know, keep it specific and narrow, and be original, because there's no point in rewriting something someone else has already done," he added.

Jay Harstad's fifth graders were quick to spell out their ideas, including "Thanksgiving," "grandma's house," "swimming at the park," "a boring day in a boring math class," "fun with fractions," and finally, "a vacation gone wrong," the theme they settled on as satisfactory song material.

Nachmanoff then drew five boxes on the whiteboard, explaining that each was meant to house the main idea for a verse and another was meant for the chorus. The students then volunteered rhyming words for the word "jet" as they pursued the concepts of "being late for a flight at the airport" and "having troubles getting to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving dinner."

The singer challenged the students to think beyond rhyming words in order to form the verses and they rose to that challenge, experiencing the writing process in its entirety as they narrowed their suggested topic down to predicaments that included getting in the car and finding that the bridge on the way to the airport was "really wet."

One young man's idea encompassed "getting to Grandma's house and finding out that she forgot all about Thanksgiving dinner so we order pizza instead."

The group forged onward, experimenting with verses and rhymes in various forms, finding a story and tune that pleased their ears.

Nachmanoff then asked Harstad to write the lyrics down and record the students as they rehearsed the song for the first time.

"This sounds like it's going to be a country song," he added, strumming his guitar and helping the students form their chorus and verses into a fluid song that detailed the "getting to Grandma's" troubles, then offered up the classic backseat driver question, "Are we there yet, are we there yet?"

Nachmanoff congratulated the students on their accomplishment of writing "Are We There Yet?" and encouraged them to continue thinking of topics for the next day's brainstorming and songwriting session.

"Good work...you get to write one more. You did really well today," he told them before they left class. "So think about tomorrow and what you want to write about. Tomorrow...'Are we there yet?'"

Nachmanoff worked with the Chatfield students while on a tour of southeastern Minnesota. He also performed in Spring Grove and at the Chatfield Center for the Arts.