Gospel singing lights path for PS 48 kids

Maya Rajamani

The Songcorps group sings gospel at PS 48.

The music room at PS 48 has been transformed into a recording studio.

Two condenser microphones and a dynamic microphone are set up at the front of the room in the elementary school on Spofford Avenue. Hunts Point Alliance for Children teacher Creighton Irons dons headphones and plays a keyboard to accompany 14 fourth-grade boys as they sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

On a June afternoon weeks before the end of the school year, they were recording a CD, which meant they had to get through their repertoire of songs without any mistakes.

“This time I want to hear your smile coming through the recording,” Irons says.

The boys are part of Songcorps, a musical group formed as part of a collaboration between the Hunts Point Alliance for Children and PS 48 music teacher Melissa Salguero. Salguero, Irons, and fellow teacher Corey Johnson launched the group last January as a way to teach music to at-risk fourth grade boys at the school. By recording CDs, they’re hoping to give the boys something tangible to take with them.

“The main goal is to give them an outlet, teach them the history of music, and have a lot of fun,” said Salguero while preparing to record. The group meets twice a week to rehearse – Salguero semi-jokingly describes her teaching style as militaristic, owing to her experience playing in a marching band in college.

The boys have a special song that summarizes the group’s code of ethics.

“We are Songcorps, and this is what we stand for. We stand for it everyday,” they sing at the beginning of every practice, before singing out rules like “respect each other” and “no fooling around.”

The students have also written their own song, which describes the freeing effect music has on them, with lyrics like “I feel awesome, when I’m playing games. Like Adam Sandler, in the Hall of Fame.”

Group member Jasean Michie,10, says being part of the group has helped him realize that many musicians write their own songs.

“It was exciting,” he said of the songwriting process.

The group also performs songs steeped in history, especially African-American history. Salguero said the boys ears perked up when they learned the songs stemmed from slavery.

“Through music they spoke in a secret code. That’s something that got them interested in it,” she said.

“For these kids to experience music they may not have experienced before, and be singing it or humming it as they walk out the door, is important to me because I know they’re connected with something,” said Johnson.

Salguero is hopeful Songcorp’s funding won’t be cut. Many of the boys in the program used to miss school frequently, she says, but, with the added motivation of the group, attendance is up.

Irons says it’s important for the boys to have extracurricular activities in school that aren’t centered only around sports.

“They definitely have a sense of identity built around a music experience, which I think is really cool,” he said. “Music is something that you can have as part of you. You can claim it.”

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