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'Songbirds' program hits PTS

Phoenix-Talent SD, Rogue World Music partnership brings ‘Songbirds’ program to elementary schools

PHOENIX – The Phoenix-Talent School District has partnered with Rogue World Music to bring the Ashland non-profit’s innovative “Songbirds” program to Phoenix-Talent elementary schools.

Led by RWM executive director Ana Byers and Songbirds music instructor Travis Puntarelli, the program kicked off its tour through the district at Phoenix Elementary beginning Jan. 4. It will wrap up there on Feb. 18 before making its way through Talent Elementary (Feb. 2 through April 22) and Orchard Hill Elementary (April 25 through June 10). All told, every K-5 student in the district’s three elementary schools will participate in the Songbirds program once a week for seven weeks.

Songbirds teaches songs and dances from around the world using cooperative singing, movement, body percussion and play to develop fundamental music concepts of pitch, scale and meter. Puntarelli weaves each song’s meaning and cultural context into the learning process via storytelling to foster better engagement and cultural competency.

“Everyone has innate musicality; it’s just part of us being human,” Byers said. “And so many cultures around the world use music as a means to connect and to transmit information and a sense of place and identity and history, and rather than focusing on preparing students to be technical masters, we help students develop a sense of comfort with generating music with the instrument we all have – which is our body and our voice to some degree or another. …Perfection isn’t the goal, but doing is the goal.”

Songs that will be taught to Phoenix-Talent students this year include: “Fanga Alafia” (West African song, specifically the Yoruba culture/ethnic group that resides mainly in Nigeria, Benin and Togo); “Tue Tue” (West African song, specifically the Akan culture/ethnic group of Ghana); “Bambu du Bambu” (traditional Brazilian samba with lyrics taught in Portuguese, English and Spanish); “Cape Cod Girls” (traditional sea shanty with influence from Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States); “I like to Rise” (traditional English country song); “Mo Li Hua” (traditional song from China, sung in Mandarin); and “Ke Ao Nani (traditional hula chant/song from Hawaii).

During a recent second-grade music lesson at Phoenix Elementary, Puntarelli led his students through some voice warm-up exercises before moving on to a hopscotch course that required students to negotiate taped-out obstacles around the room while singing. Puntarelli drummed the beat and led the song as his students hopped to the rhythm and sang along.

Later, the students sat quietly as Puntarelli told the story of a resourceful, guitar-playing monkey in Brazil who narrowly escaped certain death but before doing so introduces a hungry hiker (and Puntarelli’s students) to the relentlessly catchy “Bambu du Bambu.”

After the story, Puntarelli translated the lyrics to reveal the meaning of the song: in part, “We are dancing with our mamma and our brothers and sisters and our papa.” After that, it’s time to sing and dance.

“I use the story as a grounding mechanism to …culturally place the song,” Puntarelli said. “It also gives me dynamics so I can talk to them softly and quietly in the context of the story. Before then we’re loud and we’re singing the song in a big way.”

Byers said the context which is unpacked by the stories is an essential element of the Songbirds program.

“We’re wanting to create a sense of connection with the song and …the possibility of that is greater if a person knows not just what they’re saying but also the story around that," she said. "And then if there’s a way to connect with that story at an emotional level that’s evoked with a narrative, that really helps solidify recalling that down the road.”

For more information about this story please contact Phoenix-Talent communications specialist Joe Zavala at or 541-535-1517 x1019.