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Garfield fifth-graders find the voice to sing their stories

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MEDINA — Thomas Sigel promotes scores of events every year in Medina County and surrounding areas, but one stands out among the rest, he said.

“This is our most compelling program,” the Ohio Regional Music and Cultural Outreach executive director said Friday morning at Garfield Elementary School.

The fourth-annual songwriting workshop came to fruition as eight fifth-grade students wrote the lyrics and melodies as well as came up with background tracks and produced original music. They performed their “Songs of Grit” before about 240 Garfield students, staff, and city and school officials.

Sigel said director Thomas Lempner implemented the program and came to the school twice a week to work with the students.

“He led them through the process to express their words,” Sigel said.

“The whole exercise is like music therapy to help kids on the brink.”

Lempner said the songs this year were about dealing with life’s struggles and difficulties and how to develop a character of grit. About 70 percent of the children at Garfield qualify for either free or reduced lunches, Sigel said.

KayLani Nelson said she was “nervous” singing her song, “Giving My Best,” but she was able to perform.

“It was difficult,” she said.

Lempner said the fifth-grader was so quiet, yet had such a beautiful voice.

“The kids worked two and a half months on their songs,” Sigel said. “It boosts their self-esteem. It’s a cathartic program.”

School counselor Julia Copley helped the students develop their musical ideas.

“They learn how to express their feelings in a healthy way,” she said.

Copley, a former music teacher with Solon Schools, said the program helped the students with expression, confidence and leadership.

Sigel said he’d love to take the program, funded by the local Willard Stephenson Foundation, to Claggett Middle School at some point.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.
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