Singing what they know


In a grown-up world mired in war, the kids at Roland Park Middle School have a different idea about what is really important: friendship, love, being true to your feelings and true to yourself - and the cathartic power of a well-penned song.

That's why the group who recorded a CD this month purposely avoided current events when they sat down to write a catchy chorus and learn about self-expression through songwriting.

The United States has invaded Iraq and - much closer to home - the pupils must drink from water coolers because many city schools' water fountains are contaminated with lead, but the songwriting team focused on jealousy - how it ruins friendships, breaks up budding love affairs, and permeates their sheltered, middle school microcosm.

One upbeat verse goes:

My heart ain't a toy.

So why you playing all these games?

It's time for you to go, boy.

A later verse bops:

Why do you take the time to talk about me?

I never talk about you.

That's just your insecurity.

In middle school, the songwriters said, politics takes a back seat to back-stabbing drama.

"The war is boring," said eighth-grader Jessica Ingram, sighing. "And the water thing? That's a real depressing subject. I mean, children are getting lead poisoning. That's not something you want to sing about."

"Jealousy is something that everyone has experienced," added classmate Jessica Gaylord.

Never mind that most of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the workshop - which was a part of Roland Park's yearly literary festival - acknowledged being inexperienced in the kinds of cheating, betrayal and love-gone-wrong that they hear about on the radio.

Seventh-grader Dennis Heath once stole a girlfriend from a good friend, and later regretted it. And Jessica Ingram is constantly "hated on" simply because she once dated the cute guy all the girls like.

But mostly, the middle school melodrama is make-believe. It is only role-playing.

Ned Oldham, who led the weeklong songwriting workshop, chose to back away from encouraging them to consider "weightier" subjects for their project.

"I thought, 'Historical times are happening right now; maybe these kids will be interested in that,'" said Oldham, 35, a free-lance writer and guitarist in Anomoanon, a local rock band. "But, I forgot about that time in my life - on purpose probably."

When the song was finished, complete with a verse or two rapped by eighth-graders Felisha Tankard and Joey Gant, Oldham said he could understand why the kids wanted to stay in their world - and leave the lead and the war to the grown-ups.

"This," he said, "is the last innocent time in their lives."

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