George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Trends

Teens, Song and the Language of Connection

October 31, 2013
Image credit: Veer

For almost a decade, I served as music teacher, songwriter and informal counselor to a crew of songbirds in Santa Barbara known as "Lessia's Crew." My warm-hearted pop choir -- made up of tweens and teens, all shapes and sizes -- gathered at my studio every Sunday morning. It was always fun – indeed, it was heavenly. Every voice mattered, mistakes were deliberate, and the music was exceptional.

Photo credit: Lessia Bonn

The Crew with a Clue

During those magical "Crew" years, I stumbled upon an unusual way to help my students deal with challenges. When one of them brought me a dilemma, I would pen a song based on the particular emotional challenge -- making sure the lyrics were deep and insightful. The student would sing the new song again and again. Through repetition, the lyrics reached deep inside and became a part of her automatic thinking. This helped the kids find a much more positive view. They often told me, "Your songs are saving my life!" They called them "clue tunes."

When it was time to record our songs, we chose a fancy studio that looked like a giant barn, and hired Bucket, Justin Timberlake's drummer. Each recorded song featured a different Crew girl's voice. We ended with an entire library full of special "clue tunes."

Recording in a professional studio was amazing . . . and then I got a phone call that rocked our world!

I was summoned to a Hollywood meeting like the ones in the movies, where everyone is sitting around in a pretty house with polished wood floors and big windows, talking about what the plan should be. To my surprise, these forward-thinking producers were envisioning a TV show based on the story of our sweet Crew. I was jumping up and down at this point. Finally! A way to get our wisdom songs out to more kids! This broader vision had been percolating in my mind for quite a while. And here it looked like it was finally happening.

Perhaps if this opportunity had showed up now instead of then, things would have turned out differently. Who knows? I now have my media ducks all lined up eagerly waiting to march. I have video for most all my audio, which is important in a Hollywood presentation. But back then, I had squat. I wasn't ready. Meanwhile, the Glee people had everything. So they got the gig, and the rest is history. I think they did OK.

Photo credit: Lessia Bonn

Spreading the Love

Everyone soon left for college -- including my oldest son and all the Crew -- and we moved to Sonoma, a smallish city in Northern California. I felt isolated until I learned to connect with other educators online. I love discovering useful teaching material that I can pin, tweet and share everywhere. When I pin on Pinterest, I feel as if I'm sharing hidden treasure with other teachers. I often connect with educators on "Teachers Pay Teachers," and make an effort to stay involved at Edutopia (which, for the record, is my favorite site). I have two Facebook pages, a website on using lyrics to combat bullying and the website Vocals by Locals. I join a new teacher site once a month, and I frequently comment on blogs.

Along the way, with much help from Dru Frick (mother of a Crew alum), I created lesson plans that now align the SEL-based song wisdom with Common Core ELA. These days I talk about "brain breaks" and "transitions." It's like a new language -- a style of teacher-talk found on most threads. I love teachers and find the discussions enlightening. We're our own kind of Crew spreading sweet harmony all over the universe. Well . . . somebody has to!

And I do all this connecting from my cozy couch in my PJs, sipping a mocha and feeling very modern. I adore this brave new world in so many ways. It suits me.

How the Future Connects with the Past

I love that while Crew girl Rachel is busy at Dartmouth, her voice is teaching kids to be better friends. I love that Jessie, who is all grown up, is inspiring kids to stand tall and be brave. I love that Viva is in England, but her voice is in Fresno. I love that, not long ago, Madi had too many monkeys, and that now, because of her misadventures as a youth, her monkey song warns other kids to not worry so much. All these things can happen because the Internet connects all teachers everywhere. My songs can teach because now teachers easily connect with other teachers and share good ideas.

Photo credit: Lessia Bonn

Word from The Dude

A while back, I received an email from Jeff Bridges. I know him because his daughter, Jess, is one of our songbirds. In his email, The Dude asked if I had anything on my Crew (as in "written for a movie") that he could pass around to his buddies. I drew a blank. Oh, dear, I'm not a screenwriter. And then I started thinking . . . If any of you wonderful teachers out there actually have skills and might know how to write a brilliant screenplay about an amazing crew of loving kids who once had a pop choir where everyone just sat on the floor, giggling a lot, and worked out their problems with songs . . . maybe we could connect. Just saying . . .

And just asking: how has being connected changed your life?

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  • Arts
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
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