LAKEWOOD RANCH — Eight-year-old Samantha Torino settles her fingers on the keyboard and takes a breath.
And as East County musician Dean Johanesen begins strumming the chords she’s chosen on his acoustic guitar, Samantha plucks away at the keys, taking her first stab at creating a melody. As Samantha hit her last notes, a smile spreads across her face.
The Willis Elementary student is one of more than a dozen children participating in a songwriting class at Kids R Kids’ summer camp. Johanesen, a music teacher and singer/songwriter in the band The Human Condition, launched the six-week program three weeks ago. Through it, he is teaching children ages 6 to 10 to choose notes, pick out verse and chorus sections for their own songs and write melodies, among other key components of songwriting.
“I think it’s really inspiring that someone wants to teach us something that I can use,” said Samantha, who already is formulating lyrics for the tune in her head. “If he thinks I can do it, I think I can do it. There’s a bumpy road in front of me, but I’ll try to smooth it out.”
Johanesen, who has been teaching children about music and instruments at preschools for about the last eight years through his business, M.I. Music Classes, said campers at Kids R Kids are catching on even more quickly than he envisioned.
“I have two girls who even started writing their own lyrics,” Johanesen said. “I was blown away by it.”
Kids R Kids owner Gregg Kinney said he and the facility’s curriculum coordinator were looking for interesting summer camp programs when they came up with an idea for offering songwriting classes. They pitched the idea to Johanesen, with whom they’d worked before, and he, in turn, presented the idea to the children. Enough of them showed interest to make the class part of the summer’s activities.
“It gives them exposure to something they may not have (available) to them,” Kinney said. “Sometimes, kids don’t know they have an interest in something (until they do it.)
“It’s been very positive,” he said of the program. “They have grasped the concepts very well.”
Johanesen said his goal not only is to inspire a love of music but also to help children think beyond their current abilities. When Johanesen was a child listening to a song on the radio, he never dreamed one day he’d be writing his own music and playing it for others as he does today.
“I’m trying to break down the barriers a little,” he said. “My concept about music education is giving kids the idea they can do anything.”
Children in the class said they are enjoying themselves — although the task, in many cases, has been more difficult than they expected.
Freedom Elementary student Ashley Stevens admitted writing music has been challenging but said the effort is rewarding, particularly since she began learning to play the piano a few months ago.
“I think it will be a really good experience,” she said.
And 10-year-old Lauren Maginness gave a quick shrug, thinking back to the one time she tried to write a song.
“It didn’t go so good,” she recalled. “When I got in the class, it seemed really good. I learned to play (the keyboard). I feel smart. It’s a big experience for me.”
She said she also loves the idea that one day, one of her songs could inspire others to write their own.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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