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Songwriting in secondary schools

Pat Pattison
Songwriting in NZ secondary schools is flourishing as more music teachers embrace this unique craft. Words and Music.


Songwriting in NZ secondary schools is flourishing as more music teachers embrace this unique craft. Words and Music. The guidance and feedback of music teachers and mentors is at the forefront of this evolution (as opposed to 'teaching'). Mike Chunn shines a light on this year's Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition.

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Under wild Waikato skies, Pat Pattison, professor of lyric writing at Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA turns to me as we head to his songwriting workshop in Hamilton.

“What matters most about the Play It Strange songwriting competition,” he says “is not who wins or who makes it to the CD. What matters most is the large number of students who've written, completed, recorded and entered your competition. I love that.”  And as we drive off down the motorway, we start to play some of those songs in the car.

Songwriting in secondary schools is starting to click. More and more music teachers are starting to focus on the craft of songwriting and encouraging their students to write songs. And there are NCEA credits to be had in that practice. While the curriculum has yet to include songs as a single entity, music teachers can assess the music of their students songs as ‘compositions’ and the Memorandum of Understanding that Play It Strange has with the NZQA allows experienced music teachers contracted by Play It Strange to do the same at the student’s request. This usually comes to play if a songwriter doesn’t take music as a subject.

Each year, more schools are starting to emerge with a songwriting focus. There have been the time-honoured ones: Kaipara College (23 songs this year), Gisborne Girls High (37 songs), Otumoetai College (12 songs); Hauraki Plains College (11 songs), Manurewa High (20 songs), Green Bay High School (18 songs)  and so on. But schools that have been quiet in the past have a new breed of music student intent on writing, performing and recording their own material. Schools like Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland where Grace Brebner is leading a cluster of songwriters out into the open. Rangi Ruru School in Christchurch is another with. Girls’ schools?  An interesting statistic is that 73% of the songs entered in this year’s Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition are by female students. 

The winner this year – Talia Dalton - is aged 13, attends Otumoetai College and her song is titled Ice Cube In A Coffee. The two winners of the Peace Song Competition are female students – Emma Cooper-Williams from Rangitoto College in Auckland and Jessica Adams from Mackenzie College in Fairlie. The winner of the Junior Maioha Award for best song written in te reo Maori is Mereana Teka from Opotiki College.

There is a vibrant enthusiasm from young female songwriters. And their lyrics are telling the stories. Here are examples from this year’s competition.

Daphne Parish & Ruben Mita (Green Bay High School)

“Night. Flew into the night
Followed starlight… to start again
Rise after fall
Looking back on our planet in plight
Our very last sight was….
Earth was burning the brightest of all”

Grace Wood (St Kentigerns’ College)

“Now you’re gone
There’s a face on my wall
And it’s looking down on the carpet
And it’s judging me….
I run like the shadows are chasing me”

Talia Dalton (Otumoetai College)

“Some hearts wither like an apple in the last moment of decay
Or a flower in the winter. They just wilt away.
Or maybe just a sliver
Like something nagging at the back of your brain.
Or a story that is waiting to be told…,.
Even though it’s not the day”

Danielle Uka (Papakura High School)

“I walk along the long white cloud
through the gates and to my home town
It’s everything I thought it would be
Peace and most of all – serenity
This is the national anthem of heaven”

Josie Hick (Spotswood College)    

“The sun goes down and all around
The darkness starts to shine
The man in the moon throws a star and soon
A wish is wished nearby….”

A new era of evocative lyric writing is here. And with English teachers or Play It Strange assessors now able to assess at Level 1 the lyrics of songs entered in the Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition, a spotlight will be shone on song lyrics in the creative writing pursuits of secondary school students. We hope that with this evolution, wordsmiths and songwriter/composers will work together to bring yet more songs into the Play It Strange world.

Written by

Mike Chunn

5 Sep 2014

Interests Mike Chunn has worked with original songs all his life from his days with Split Enz and Citizen Band through Mushroom Records (Dance Exponents and DD Smash) to eleven years as Director of Operations for APRA.