The nature of songwriting

Paul Reisler and assistant Heather Mae Foard facilitate a songwriting session at FONZ Camp in Front Royal. Photo by Mary Ashton.
Paul Reisler and assistant Heather Mae Foard facilitate a songwriting session at FONZ Camp in Front Royal. Photo by Mary Ashton.

By Mary Ashton
Special to the Rappahannock News

Just this week, a remarkable love affair between a four-foot crane and her human keeper was discovered by young campers attending the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) Summer Camp in Front Royal.  

During two special songwriting sessions facilitated by Kid Pan Alley, 13 campers from Hiking Group No. 2 memorialized the relationship by writing a four-verse song with an infectious tune:

She’s got six foot wings but she can’t fly

If she could I know she’d touch the sky

Her wings beat fast just like my heart

She’s an endangered work of art . . .

Smithsonian scientist Chris Crowe with one of the white-napped cranes he’s responsible for at SCBI.
Smithsonian scientist Chris Crowe with one of the white-napped cranes he’s responsible for at SCBI.

The campers, fifth- and sixth-graders attending a one-week program July 8-14 at the Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute (SCBI), learned of this crane/human “romance” while visiting with Walnut, a white-napped crane, during one of their first adventures. Chris Crowe, her human keeper, has taken care of Walnut since she came to SCBI already “imprinted” on humans and looking for a boyfriend. As a result of the intended connection, Walnut has no fear of Chris as he and others work to preserve her species through research and a plan to enable her to reproduce through artificial insemination. White-napped cranes like Walnut are a species indigenous to parts of China and Russia but endangered due to loss of habitat and overhunting.

According to Paul Reisler, the Rappahannock County-based founder and artistic director of Kid Pan Alley, “The kids were really listening and learning that day. While coming up with the words and tunes from their experiences, you could see them connect to the songs inside themselves inspired by this remarkable camp and set of experiences.”

The song entitled “Chris and Walnut” had its singing debut along with other campers’ songs at a Kid Plan Alley concert June 10 in the Institute’s auditorium. Members of community and the institute’s staff attended.

In addition to Hiking Group No. 2, three other groups of enthusiastic songwriters wrote and sung about “pretty owls on a Saturday night,” “the random dance of the salamander,” and “204 full moons.”  

When asked what they liked most about their new songwriting experience, one camper said she liked looking for the right words and rhymes with everyone joining in. “Cool words!” added another. “I didn’t think we could do this but we did. It was fun.”

Jennifer Manly, a Kid Plan Alley board member and SCBI supporter, said: “Seeing the childrens’ talent come out through lyrics, music, and a deeper appreciation for nature and conservation was inspiring.”

“The idea of integrating songwriting into the FONZ’s camp’s program was something we embraced immediately,” said Laura Linn, FONZ camp coordinator and educational specialist. “The generous donation we received allowed us to use Kid Pan Alley to connect our kids to nature, science, songwriting and each other all at once.”

The FONZ camp’s mission at SCBI is to help kids become future stewards of the environment. On its 3,200 acres just north of Chester Gap, SCBI conducts groundbreaking research to conserve endangered species and ecosystems locally, nationally, and around the world. Its more than 100 scientists and trainees pursue this research in areas of animal husbandry, reproduction, nutrition, genetics and preventive medicine.  

For more information on the FONZ Camp, SCBI and Kid Pan Alley, contact SCBI’s Laura Linn linnl@si.edu or Kid Pan Alley’s Deverell Pederson at deverell@kidpanalley.org or 540-322-2022.

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