Swarthmore, PA – “Teach Your Children Well” -The Walden School – June 14, 1999

The rain drums on the windshield in heavy metal bullets. It drowns out the music on the sterio. Beyond the window is a blur of blue-green foliage and a ribbon of grey road, which bends like a snake to swallow our van whole. The drive is like being inside a 3D Monet painting.

Flowers in plastic bottles are braced in cupholders and wired to the back of the instrument cage. They jostle and spill around the corners. I love flowers but rarely buy them or cut them for myself. I see killing them for my pleasure as somewhat unjust but I’m grateful to tend to them whenever they come into my company.

Our current floral haul came on board this morning, gifts from the students from The Walden School who showed their appreciation with bouquets bigger than my head. I have a “No flower left behind” policy. I can hear the boys in the band groan whenever flowers are presented to me, be it a handful of freshly picked wildflowers or a dozen long-stemmed roses, they know it’s a full band commitment. These flowers need to be carried from the backstage to the van and from the van to the hotel room. They’ll need to be pruned and have their water changed daily. Hosting them in the van will mean someone gets wet, gets bitten by a thorn, gets a pollin tatoo on their stage cloths or has a sneezing fit. But these are all part of the sacrifices my band makes for me and my commitment to flowers.

What a joy it was playing for the kids at Walden. The day started off late, with Chris S. tugging at my toe to wake me up. It was already 10:30 AM.

Sharing a room the night before, Soucy and I laughed at our reflections side by side, brushing our teeth in front of the mirror in the bathroom like an old married couple. With a mouth full of fluoride, I asked him if he’d be willing to join me at the Walden School the next day. “I love kids,” I confessed, rinsing my mouth out, “but I don’t quite know how to relate to them. And since you were a 5th-grade teacher before becoming my guitar player –” Chris suddenly became very serious, taking charge of the situation as though performing for 6- to 14-year-olds required the skill of twenty bomb disarmers.

“We’ll need to practice,” he declared, abandoning his frothy toothbrush on the sink to retrieve our guitars from the van. Unsheithing the guitars he spoke to me a mile a minute. “We should play ‘Happy Now’ and teach the kids how to sing the different parts. And ‘Song For Kim’—just make sure you watch the ‘f’ word. We shouldn’t play ‘Red Room,’ it’s too suggestive.”
“But Chris, it only says, ‘I kissed a boy…’
“Well, maybe it’ll be OK. But avoid the bit about going to songwriter’s jail; they’ll think you’re serious. Sarcasm and kids don’t mix. Also, we should stick to songs from the CD. Marji said they’ve been listening to it a lot. We should do ‘Sign of Rain’ and you should teach the kids how you write about images. Maybe we should include a song like ‘The Cat Came Back the Very Next Day,’” he suggested, strumming the tune on his guitar. “NO!” I said firmly. “They hired us to do our show, and that’s what we’re going to do.” I began to wonder if inviting Chris was such a good idea. But once I relinquished control and let him take the reins, everything went smoother. It was clear this meant a lot to him.

Katie, Sally, Marji, Katie’s friend

Marji, the teacher who’d arranged our performance, wanted us at school by noon and mapped our route from the hotel meticulously accounting for traffic lights and even the weather. Her family—Larry, Katie, and Ryan—treated us like royalty when we arrived, surrounding us with chocolates, Reid’s Ginger Beer (my fave), and a student-crafted welcome banner. Katie and her friend even made me a star and ribbon crown to wear on stage. In a classroom turned greenroom just for us, we gathered on folding chairs around a blue plastic tablecloth, delightedly drinking no-name cola and gorging ourselves on homemade sandwiches from a pickle-juice-soaked platter.

Kenny, Bri, Soucy & Delucchi backstage at The Walden School

The children gathered in the assembly hall at 12:30, their eyes peering up at me from a sea of blue, orange, pink, and green tie-dyed shirts. As Soucy choreographed, I sang and then answered students’ questions. After the second song, Chris leaned over his mic and, wide-eyed, asked, “Wanna talk about songwriting now?”

The students made me think in ways adults rarely do. When I talk to adults about songwriting, I speak to what they already know. But with kids, I had to start from scratch and use a vocabulary they would understand. I told them, “Songs are pictures born from emotions.” I told them “You can draw a picture of a song just as easily as you can write a song from a picture.” To show them how, I asked the kids to close their eyes and see what images came to mind during the next song. Chris and I played “Sign Of Rain,” and then called on raised hands asking them what the song had brought to mind.

“Christmas,” one girl said. “Summer,” said another. “A van driving through leaves,” “rain,” they all wanted to chime in. I told them they were all right because there is no misinterpreting the meaning of a song. “That’s the beauty of art,” I said. “It’s allowed to look, sound, feel, and smell different to everyone.” We did the same exercise with “Waiting On an Angel,” and the children’s vivid imaginations blew me away: “I see an angel holding her child,” “I see an angel riding a horse through the sky,” “I see angels at Christmas time.” And then one girl pointed at me and said, “You.” That nearly melted me into a puddle on the floor.

It was a fabulous gig; my favorite of the tour. After we played, we signed CDs and I found myself in a hurricane of tie-dyed children who wanted Sally Taylor stickers and for me to sign their tie-dyed backs and yearbooks. I tell you, I love those kids at Walden. In challenging me to teach them about songwriting, they ended up educating me about the spirit of muse. I clearly have much more to learn from children.

Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Swarthmore, PA – “Teach Your Children Well” -The Walden School – June 14, 1999”

  1. This one and the one about the spaces in between the music have been my favourites so far 💕

    More people need to get on the consenses band wagon. I love how you and your husband have introduced curriculum into schools for dyslexia as well. It’s so needed to reduce bullying and hate in the world. I hope your message changes the world and helps humanity in a drastic way. In my opinion it has the power to change the world. It’s literally the language that everyone is desperately seeking. It’s as powerful as the language of music.

    1. Thanks Julia,
      That really is encouraging to hear. I never know who the Consenses and NoticeAbility message is reaching and if we make a difference so it’s so good of you to let Dean and I know that we’re not just yelling into the abyss.
      With gratitude, Sally

Comments are closed.