• 9 PPS high school students write songs in unique project for the Smithsonian

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    Members of the Teen Songwriting Intensive worked and record at Halfling Studio. (Screen shots from Smithsonian video)

    Aspiring songwriters can struggle to find topics to write about, but nine high school students from Portland Public Schools were given a unique opportunity that was the polar opposite. They received access to source material from the world’s largest museum, education and research complex from which to take on the challenge of writing songs.

    The project was called the “Teen Songwriting Intensive” and came together through a partnership between the district’s CTE (career and technical education) department and the N.M. Bodecker Foundation, in conjunction with the cultural heritage staff at the Smithsonian Institution. The students were nominated for the project by their teachers, counselors and career coordinators

    “They researched, wrote and recorded three songs based on openly-sourced documents from the Smithsonian,” said Chris Funk, a member of the Portland band The Decemberists and creative director of the Bodecker Foundation.

    The students who participated were:

    • Alyssia Menezes, Lincoln
    • Calvin Sewell, Wilson
    • Claire “Rumi” Chapiro-Luboff, Wilson
    • Demian “Forest” Shaw, Alliance at Meek
    • Eli Pearl, Grant
    • Joneyo “Jolly Wrapper” Prom, Jefferson
    • Lucas Murray, Wilson
    • Sirena Miranda, Grant
    • Tracy Jones, Wilson

    The students worked with seven artist mentors, including Funk and Zach Carothers and John Gourley of another Portland band, Portugal. The Man. They were able to use the state-of-the-art Halfling Studio at Bodecker’s offices in Northwest Portland.

    “It's really fun just being in the studio,” Sirena said. “It's not something I'm used to.”

    The Smithsonian, through its Open Access program, has made almost 3 million items digitally  available from its massive collections, a huge treasure trove for the students to work with.

    “Without information, there's no sustenance of what I'm creating,” said Joneyo, who has recorded several songs under the name Jolly Wrapper.

    The Portland-based Bodecker Foundation, in Funk’s words, “empowers creative youth to imagine and achieve their artistic, educational and professional dreams.”

    The three songs the students wrote can be heard on the Halfling Studio’s SoundCloud page. Jolly Wrapper performed the song he wrote with Calvin and Forest, “Flipsonian,” at the Smithsonian’s February event in Washington, D.C., to launch the Open Access program.

    Watch Jolly’s performance in Washington, D.C.

    Watch the Smithsonian's video on the Teen Songwriting Intensive: