Songwriter Steve Seskin inspires students to write songs about respect
Songwriter Steve Seskin is on a mission to teach kids how to be kind and respectful.
The award-winning songwriter, who has penned hits for Tim McGraw, Neal McCoy and Colin Raye, will be in town this week to write some songs with Park City School District students for his Kids Write Songs project.
Seskin, who is in town for the upcoming Park City Songwriters Festival, will hold songwriting sessions for students this week at Jeremy Ranch, Parley’s Park, Trailside elementary schools and Ecker Hill Middle School.
But what Seskin is really jazzed for is the free concert he and the kids will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“The concert will include kids from all four schools singing the songs they created with me, as well as me singing some of my own songs,” Seskin said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
The songs will address issues of bullying, being respectful students and being a good force in the community, which is the core of Kids Write Songs, he said.
Kids Write Songs was born out of a program called Operation Respect, an anti-bullying nonprofit founded by Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
“I had written a song in 1999 called ‘Don’t Laugh at Me,’ and Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it,” Seskin said. “Peter turned the theme of that song into an anti-bullying school curriculum.”
Throughout the years, Seskin participated in Operation Respect school assemblies, where he would visit with students and sing about respect.
“Thirteen years ago, I thought it might be good to get the kids to use their own words to write songs about these issues, so I started Kids Write Songs, which was meant to address those issues in songs created by the kids themselves,” Seskin said.
The goal was not only to teach the kids about kindness but also to inspire them to be creative.
“I teach them about song construction,” Seskin said. “I show them how songs are like stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end.”
During those workshops, Seskin examines the different sections of a song.
“We usually start with a chorus, which is the main point of the song,” he said. “It sums up the song, and it’s where the title is almost always is.”
From there, Seskin teaches the students about verses.
“What’s great for me is to see who the kids start to shine when they start writing the verses, because the stories about what the kids have observed and lived through are interesting,” he said.
Songwriting, Seskin says, is more effective than just taking with kids.
“Usually if you just ask them directly what they feel about something, they might tell you, and they might not,” he said. “But if you ask them to write a song, there is more of a chance they will fully convey their thoughts.”
There’s nothing like seeing young students putting their energies into something that will help them to creatively speak their minds, Seskin said.
“Kid think about a lot of things; more than we give them credit for,” he said. “So this gives them a forum to write about those feelings. And that’s when their own stories will start coming out of the woodwork.”
The other goal of getting students to write and perform their own songs is to inspire their classmates.
“It’s to spread good messages to kids through kids,” he said. “If we do our job right, the songs the kids will write will touch something in the other kids that will motivate them to be better people.”
Debate is a great way for students to learn communication skills.
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