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Among School Children

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"Last night, I dreamed of new inventions -- what will power it all." Enter The Great Unknown, a Philly-based band that seems to find home in the groove that forms between people sharing the same moment. Yes, this is what music is meant to be about: the groove beyond the vinyl. But these guys seem to season the space with an extra shake of kinetic energy. In performance, they blur the line between performer and audience, as an extension of their earnest faith in the power of music to build and grow community.

Frontman Todd Henkin, who I'm told shares my love of W.B. Yeats, likely too protests with that great poet why children should learn "to cipher and to sing... be neat in everything." Better to stir up their young minds with questions that can blossom into individual thoughts, brightening glances, root-reaching imaginings. The result is a 5-track EP, released July 19th, as Other Voices, Other Rooms.

All the songs on this name-your-price collection represent a story-telling collaboration between The Great Unknown and America SCORES schoolchildren from five cities across the country. The band is donating all proceeds from online sales to the ASCAP Songwriter Residency @ America SCORES, an inspired program that was created to connect under-resourced kids in public schools with great songwriters and composers who want to share their love of music-making. When ASCAP's Sue Devine met Todd Henkin, the venture rose to a whole new level.

Download the goods here.

To generate the lyrics, Henkin would sow the seeds by asking the kids questions about life, the moon, love, and dreams. The kids responded and Henkin arranged their answers into songs, profound in the simplicity of their wisdom. One track,"What Will Power it All," a line of which opens this blog, plays like an anthem of sorts. It calls out. These are our modern day Songs of Innocence and Experience. William Blake would be proud.

It's well worth listening not only to the music, but to the interview, in which Henkin talks about working with 120 school kids who were his collaborators.

His reflections remind me of the poetry circles I host at an assisted living community on Tuesday afternoons. These often produce songs of innocence and experience in verse form. Two weeks ago Phil, a recent regular in the group, quietly brought forth a poem he'd written in October 1943 from the Naval Air Station in Seattle, when the city was expecting a possible invasion from the Pacific. My kids happened to be present that day and my 10-year-old son was struck to see how moved Phil became as I read the poem he'd composed nearly 70 years ago. 'Twas a life lesson of the sweetest kind. Last week, Phil surprised us with another piece, "Sentinels," inspired by ancient redwood trees and written just last month. Community and creative exchange prompted Phil to pick the pen up again. This is the habit of art that the ASCAP/ America SCORES initiative makes possible for the Phils of the future. This is the habit of art that will power it all.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

- Excerpt from W.B. Yeats, "Among School Children"