When Jordan Sandidge, who records and performs as Jordidge, agreed to help elementary school students write and record original songs, he didn’t realize he was going to receive a crash course in adolescent social dynamics. But that’s exactly what he received when We Amplify Voices teamed the musician with students from Westmoor Middle School and Starling K-8 School for a pair of tunes that appear on , which also features contributions from Miracle, Trek Manifest and KIITA.
On Jordidge’s first day at Starling, there was only one student present for the session, and the youngster had little issue opening up, sharing not only his dreams but the challenges he had been forced to overcome, which helped give early dimension to the soul-kissed piano ballad “Tell Me.” But in the second session, the group ballooned to a half-dozen students, which dramatically altered the dynamic, with kids ribbing Jordidge about everything from his hair to how he looked. “They had all sorts of off-color stuff,” Jordidge said, and laughed. “At that age, you’re trying to impress your friends more than anyone else, so whatever you do to someone older, it’s inconsequential as long as your friends are laughing. … I had to take my licks early on so they knew I was cool.”
Gradually, though, the musician won over a number of the students, who started to contribute ideas for the song beyond “getting money,” building on the day one idea of dreams and the importance of holding to them when the challenges of daily existence appear insurmountable.
Tiera Suggs, director of digital storytelling for We Amplify Voices (WAV), knows firsthand the essential role music can play in a child’s development, crediting the artform with keeping her engaged and inspired at a point in time when she was trying to figure out how to best move through the world.
“Not every kid is into sports, so I do think music- and art-based programs are important,” said Suggs, whose initial interests in music centered on photography. “It shows them another route. And not just a route of creating or of learning about yourself, but an actual job, or a career they could strive for. Kind of the way I didn’t think it was possible to be a photographer at that age, meeting and working with these different people, it sparks the idea that, okay, this is possible.”
At a time when music and arts programs are often first on the school funding chopping block, WAV serves an increasingly necessary role, introducing students to working musicians and also giving them access to a creative outlet that Suggs said can help with everything from conflict resolution to learning how to better express themselves. “There’s definitely a huge social, emotional learning aspect to what we do,” she said. “I think there’s a sense among the kids, like, ‘We don’t get to do this all the time.’ So, that raw curiosity is there throughout, because everything is new. To bring them to a recording studio, or to bring a recording studio to them, it’s something a lot of students don’t get to experience.”
Part of what Jordidge hoped he could accomplish was to demystify the songwriting process for the kids, and to make the form feel accessible rather than the purview of a gifted few. “I talked about how it feels to write a song, and how it feels to put these words together, and how simple it can be,” he said. “And with that perspective, the kids just jumped at the thought of being able to do the thing. And once you get somebody doing the thing, it’s really easy to push them along a little bit. … I think a lot of it was just pulling back that curtain on the process of songwriting, and how to start and finish a song, because those are two things a lot of people can’t get around.”
The process brought Jordidge back to his elementary school years, with the musician describing himself at the time as a jokester whose serious side emerged “when it came to anything artistic.” And Suggs said the hope is that today’s students can draw similar benefits from the collaboration.
“Showing them you can take your ideas as a group, put pen to paper and turn it into a message you can put out into the community, I think that’s huge,” Suggs said. “We all used to be middle schoolers, and I do think it’s a good thing to show kids you can make something that speaks from the heart, that is real, that is positive. … And I think the younger we learn that, the more empathetic and kind we have the chance to be.”