Singing the Grade School Blues

When I was about twelve years old I was flipping through my parents record collection and came across B.B. King ‎– Live In Cook County Jail, an album cover faded and textured like prison denim.

From the moment I put the needle to the record I was transported by the sounds of inmates laughing and booing in response to introductions of the prison director and chief justice of the criminal court.   Then comes the introduction of B.B. King who immediately kicks off with “Every day I have the blues”. It was at that moment that I understood how the blues easily communicates loneliness, sadness and hardships of life to an audience.

As B.B. King says “Blues don’t necessarily have to be sung by a person that came from Mississippi as I did, because there are people having problems all over the world”.

There is power in playing blues music to a group of people that seemed to have lots to be blue about. There is power in teaching students how to express their emotions through lyrics and music.

This post is not meant to be a total downer, but rather a chance to introduce Rob LuteMeaford photo-Rob_Lutess, an accomplished singer songwriter who has been providing a blues songwriting workshops for students in Quebec, across Canada and in Europe. What he does is work with students to learn about the intersections of history and music. The workshop shows how the blues was a vehicle to comment on important societal issues, personal feelings and emotions.

Rob starts his workshops with the story of the blues as rooted in the history of slavery in North America and extending through the African-American experience of racism, segregation and discrimination. Reflecting on the history of music in North America, he talks about “the blues as the roots, the rest is the fruits” crediting the blues as the basis for much of the modern music that we enjoy today.

The second part of the workshop is where the real fun and learning begins. Students engage in writing and performing a blues song in 20 minutes. Rob works with students to brainstorm subjects, vote on a single topic and then facilitates the writing of a collective song using the Delta Blues style following the traditional AAB rhyme scheme. This style and the songwriting portion of the workshop as a whole is successful because “creativity flourishes within constraints”.

Some might say it’s impossible to write a song that fast!  Let me try one real quick.

Writer’s Block Blues

I don’t know what to write

I don’t know what to write

I’m begging please, don’t let it take all night

During my conversation with Rob, he tells me that he is pleasantly surprised to see students typically disengaged throw out lines that get the whole class enthused, building off each other. Encouraging students in this way has potential to provide valuable opportunity for student voice. Opening a space for students to write about issues in society or realities in their community.

Last year Rob brought his workshop to three schools in the Gaspe. Talking about important community realities (or at least the reality of 16 year-olds), the secondary 5 students collectively came up with a song called the “The Lifted Truck Blues”.

Last summer, grade 4 students at Clearpoint Elementary School wrote The Bad Dream Blues as part of the Montreal Folk Festival’s inaugural Artists in the Schools program. You can hear  their song here.

The Bad Dream Blues

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

The shadow had eight arms, it was flying on a broom

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

They showed up right away with a big duster

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

It was my Mom saying it’s time to go to school

I got The Bad Dream Blues 

If you are interested in organizing a workshop or talking about education and the blues you can contact Rob at


Rob Lutes Blues Playlist
Diddie Wa Diddie – Blind Blake
No Love Today– Chris Smither
It’s Tight Like That – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom
Fishin’ Blues – Taj Mahal
Tight Money – Bobby Rush




Music Through the Decades

Music through the decades is a wonderful service learning project addressing the authentic community need of reducing isolation of seniors from the Mary- Elizabeth Residence in Châteauguay while being integrated into the music, math, English and French curriculum.

The project was lead by two teachers from the New Frontiers School Board, Moira Lemme from Centennial Park Elementary School and Melissa Ianniciello from St. Willibrord.

The project started with students interviewing seniors and taking notes about music they loved throughout their lives.  The students took the information back to the classroom analyzing the results with surveys, bar graphs and answered questions using the information.  Perhaps not surprisingly, some students less engaged by math, “took the assignment very seriously as we were analyzing data. They wanted to understand – what the averages were and most common answers”  Ms. Lemme noted “Projects like this lead to better understanding for students, especially typically lower scoring students who can make connections and be excited about the work they are doing”.

The project didn’t stop there, students responded to what they had learned by working hard to put together a set of songs that would appeal to seniors.

Let’s not pretend inter-generational projects like Music through the generations are not without some challenges, even with the support of a great CLC Coordinator like Anthony Spadaccino.   Ms. Lemme mentioned the difficulty in finding time to visit the seniors and the arranging transportation logistics.   After some back and forth with the seniors home, it became apparent the seniors did not want to leave their home to see the show in the school gym.  So instead, the class brought the concert to them (with a cold buffet, props, and costumes).

Reflecting on the concert, The most popular songs were Brown Eye’d Girl and Can’t Help Falling In Love. The students brought the seniors potted flowers and presented cards saying “thanks for having us” and “have a good summer”.

A lot of work went into this project, and we have a few clues that the event was successful for the seniors and students.

After the concert, Ms. Lemme was proud to say she had received 4 calls from seniors at the residence “to thank us for our show, the flowers and the snacks!”  She also said the

“students wrote a journal today about their experience and many of them noted that they felt really good doing something for their community. They also loved learning songs that they don’t hear every day. (A few also said their parents were happy to hear some classics when their child practiced at home)”.  “I was very pleased! The kids were happy and the seniors seemed very happy!”