This November, while some kids in Milwaukee Public Schools will go about the business of learning as they always do, some kids at Hayes Bilingual School, 2431 S. 10th St., will be writing songs.
The school is one of a handful across the U.S. that will work with Philadelphia-based rock band The Great Unknown on a fun and exciting project called the ASCAP Songwriter Residency @ America SCORES.
The program is the fruit of a four-year partnership between ASCAP (the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers) and America SCORES, a soccer league launched in 1994 to help offer kids an alternative to hanging out on the streets after school.
ASCAP selects songwriters to teach workshops to third through fifth graders. After the workshops — which take place at Hayes in Milwaukee on Nov. 8-9 — the musicians and the students head to a recording studio (Tanner Monagle Studio in Downtown Milwaukee, Nov. 10) to record their song for a special compilation CD. Finished CDs go to the participating schools and music industry professionals.
Kate Carpenter, executive director of America SCORES in Milwaukee, says that the band itself chose Hayes from among a number of local schools that take part in her program.
“While we have four schools that participate in the SCORES program,” she says, “only one school could practically work with a band to create a song in three days. After learning about each of our schools the band actually thought it would be awesome to create a bilingual song, and Hayes clearly has the capacity of kids and staff to accomplish that as they are a citywide bilingual school!”
The band, meanwhile, says the songs they co-write with the kids will emphasize self-worth and individuality.
“I want to focus around the fact that kids can see themselves as important people”, says The Great Unknown’s singer and guitarist Todd Henkin.
Henkin says the band hopes to teach kids that anyone can write a song and will use brainstorming, free-writing and guided conversations to help the kids learn to turn their ideas into finished songs.
Not only does the program provide a different experience for school children, it offers a band a different — and rewarding — way to tour the States.
“We’re trying to rethink the concept of touring,” Henkin explains. “We’re trying to move away from just showing up at a venue, drinking a couple of beers, playing a show and leaving.
“We want to stay for a couple of days and meet people in the community. I feel like if you build relationships in a town, those people are going to be willing to open up. You’re going to have people who are doing awesome things, who are motivated – people who you genuinely want to be around. It becomes so much bigger than just traveling once every few months through a town.”
While in Milwaukee, The Great Unknown — which is on tour promoting its latest EP, “The New Skin” — will also perform at Brewing Grounds for Change, 2008 N. Farwell Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.
Schools in Washington DC, Cleveland, New York City and Boston are also taking part in this year’s program with The Great Unknown.