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Modern Band Students Learn Songwriting

Songwriting can be described as the art of taking a blank canvas of words and stringing them together to make meaning. It is not something that often is taught in high school. Cortland’s modern band program is one of the few music programs in the state that caters to students who are eager to learn how to write and perform their songs using instruments such as guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard.

Thanks to a grant from Cortland County local songwriter, Chris Merkley, has been working with students in the modern band class throughout this semester. On Friday, March 23rd he brought his whole band,“Digger Jones,” to explain and demonstrate the songwriting process.

Music teacher Jon Keefner said, “Songwriting can be an excellent way of enabling students to express themselves about topics that are important to them. This particular task is part of the Deeper Learning Project in which students are asked to answer the driving question, ‘How can music be used to inspire social change?’ Students were able to exercise voice and choice to pick a social issue that is important to them. It was great that we were able to have singer/songwriter Chris Merkley and his band here to talk about the process.”

Chris Merkley is scheduled to return to provide feedback to students on their songs. As it is in other forms of writing, revision, too, is an important part of songwriting.

Student Tara-Rain McMahon said, “For me this experience was so helpful. Often times we get stuck when it comes to finding a place to start. Chris was able to show us how different aspects of the band could help with a starting point. For instance, his drummer started with a rhythm, then the bass guitarist added chords, then the vocalists started adding lyrics.”

“One of the more completed songs so far is something a student wrote about depression. He took an important aspect of mental health and used an incredibly artistic approach. Several of the students are drawing influence from their favorite bands and trying to use that style to write their song,” said music teacher Jen Rafferty.

Once all of the songs are written, they will record them to create an album. There will be a  performance and album release concert at Jamfest on June 6th at the Center for the Arts in Homer. The students along with Jen Rafferty and Jon Keefer will be presenting to the Board of Education on April 9th. Stay tuned to our website and twitter feed as this project develops!


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