Finding nature’s song
Kid Pan Alley founder and artistic director Paul Reisler could not believe his eyes recently when he asked school children in Rappahannock and Page counties to raise their hands if they have never visited Shenandoah National Park.
A surprisingly large number of arms went up into the air, particularly at Luray Elementary School — its classrooms being the closest to park headquarters.
“I was shocked,” recalled Reisler, pointing out that Page and Rappahannock counties are gateway communities to Virginia’s first national park. All of which has made the latest songwriting project undertaken by Rappahannock’s most celebrated musician all the more fulfilling.
In observance of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts recently awarded Kid Pan Alley a $10,000 grant for a collaborative songwriting project with Shenandoah Park, the Shenandoah Park Trust and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Apart from inspiring children to be creators of their own music, the grant was designed to physically bring kids into the national park to experience its beauty, majesty, and importance to natural and American history. Even if it meant a musician leading the way.
Reisler and his small but talented team at Kid Pan Alley have been more than happy to oblige.
“Our roots are deep here in Rappahannock,” he reflected upon the conclusion of well-attended concerts Friday night at Rappahannock Elementary School. “Kid Pan Alley started here 16 years ago.”
Attracting a combined crowd of more than 600, the pair of concerts was the culmination of weeks of inclass songwriting sessions and rehearsals (Luray Elementary hosted an earlier concert that similarly featured songs written by children about their park experiences).
“We wrote with nine classes from Rappahannock Elementary, Hearthstone and CCLC [Child Care & Learning Center]—about 175 kids in all. ” Reisler noted, in many cases the children using visits to the park “as the inspiration for their songs.”
Performed to resounding applause Friday night, for just one example, was “I Love Shenandoah National Park,” created by Ms. Way’s second-grade class at Rappahannock Elementary with the assistance of Reisler and Sahffi Lynne (additional concert musicians included Marshall Keys, Cheryl Toth and Kiaya Abernathy):
The woods are a symphony of sound With the birds up high They’re the flutes of the sky With the bear on the bottom It’s totally awesome I love Shenandoah National Park
“I have chosen this work because I know firsthand how it can change your life,” Reisler observed. “You can see it in the children’s eyes, hear it in their voices and watch it overflow as they dance down the hallways or out to their bus.”
And onto the trails of Shenandoah Park.
— John McCaslin
Young singer-songwriters belt out a number with Kid Pan Alley musicians Marshall Keys, Sahffi Lynne and Paul Reisler at last Friday's Kid Pan Alley concert at RCES.