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Americana Project students travel to Oregon to attend the Songwriting Academy for Youth

By Bob Hemenger
Special to The Pagosa Springs SUN Online

Photo courtesy Bob Hemenger Students from Pagosa Springs High School’s Americana Project attend the Songwriting Academy for Youth in Sisters, Ore., earlier this month. Pictured, left to right, are Dayze Jones, Bob Hemenger, Hayley Mitchell, Zakk Brown, Brad Tisdel and Johannah Laverty.

Photo courtesy Bob Hemenger
Students from Pagosa Springs High School’s Americana Project attend the Songwriting Academy for Youth in Sisters, Ore., earlier this month. Pictured, left to right, are Dayze Jones, Bob Hemenger, Hayley Mitchell, Zakk Brown, Brad Tisdel and Johannah Laverty.

On March 6, four students from Pagosa Springs High School’s Americana Project class traveled with their instructor, Bob Hemenger, to Sisters, Ore. to attend the Songwriting Academy for Youth.

The event is hosted by the Sisters Folk Festival and Creative Educational Resources LLC. This three-day conference is attended by 25 high school singer/songwriters from around the state of Oregon who are all are involved in a school that has an Americana Project class.

The Americana Project was started by Brad Tisdel at Sisters High School 14 years ago. Pagosa Springs High School was fortunate to connect and hire Tisdel as a consultant to help start a program here four years ago. The program uses music and performance as a way to build self-esteem, creativity and self-expression.

This is the third year students from PSHS have made the trip to the songwriting academy. This year’s crew included Zakk Brown (senior), Dayze Jones (junior), Johannah Laverty (junior) and Hayley Mitchell (freshman). Each student was asked to share something that made an impact on him or her during the trip. The following are their responses:

Zakk Brown: “Everyone had positive feedback no matter your background. There was a great vibe of support and encouragement that created a lifelong connection with everyone at the camp.”

Dayze Jones: “I love the feeling of playing music with other people who share the same passion and love for music as me.”

Johannah Laverty: “One of the things that I really liked was the encouragement from all the rest of the musicians. We could all be ourselves and the other kids accepted us and our music.”

Hayley Mitchell: “The highlight of my trip was having the experience to get up on stage and find courage. As a freshman, it’s sometimes hard to find the courage to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. But this trip gave me the chance to embrace my individuality to the fullest.”

Bob Hemenger: “I love seeing young musicians get together and share their music in a noncompetitive way. One of the biggest highlights was watching our four musicians co-write a great song that was used as a closer for the concert.”

The students spent most of Saturday in workshops led by professional musicians from the Sisters and Portland area. Some of the workshops that had the biggest impact on our students included: how to connect and communicate without speaking; how to accompany an artist and support their song; how a memory is more than just a thought and actually includes feelings, smells and all the senses; the use of patterns on a guitar fretboard; how to find and create a melody using chords; the art of performing your song; and the powerful effect words can have on modern day society.

The final night, all students got to perform a song in a concert held in a big barn. The feeling of excitement, support and celebration could be felt by everyone in attendance. It’s a beautiful thing to watch high school students come together and make music. All four of the students shared what they learned and taught their own workshop to students in their class last week.

There are three important dates coming up for the Americana Project Class. Thursday, May 1 will be our concert at the Pagosa Springs High School auditorium with the Jaden Carlson Trio.

Sunday, May 4, will be our third fundraiser being organized by Christine Funk. This year’s artistic theme is “musical chairs.” Please contact us if you would like to help out.

Our “end of the semester” concert will be May 20 in Town Park. Please follow The Pagosa Springs SUN for more information about all these events.

Thanks to our sponsors and people who make it all happen: The Pagosa Springs SUN, Christine Funk, Riff Raff Brewing Company, Kip’s, High Country Lodge, Jack and Claudia Rosenbaum, all the artists who have contributed to our fundraisers, the local musicians who have worked with our students, and the school board and administration for allowing the class to continue.

This story was posted on March 20, 2014.