The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 1, 2014

Grammy-nominated duo offer students chance to develop their own songwriting skills

JOPLIN, Mo. — During an hourlong class Saturday, students were only required to bring one thing: their ideas.

More than 20 students from third to sixth grades put their imaginations to work and learned the steps for writing a song with the help of a Grammy-nominated duo.

Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet, who comprise the band Trout Fishing in America, led the songwriting class at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School before playing a show at TJ Concert Hall.

Since the mid-1990s, Grimwood and Idlet have been teaching kids how to work together and develop their own songwriting style. The duo played a couple songs as examples, and then asked students what they thought the new song should be about.

“You have to write about what you know about,” Grimwood said. Idlet added that their ideas normally come from everyday experiences.

Grimwood showed the students a blank, white page and said their ideas would soon fill the sheet.

“I shaved my cat,” one girl shouted.

“My sister got lice,” another said.

One boy said he simply didn’t know.

And after a show of hands and 30 minutes of brainstorming, a new song was born: “I Don’t Know Not Nothin’.”

When students had practiced the song several times, it was recorded and played back to them.

“I thought it was awesome,” said 10-year-old Jennalee Dunn, who is a fourth-grader at Thomas Jefferson. Dunn said that by going to the class, she learned how to play around with the songs and decide what she likes best.

“I’ve started a couple songs, but they never quite turned out,” she said.

Grimwood and Idlet met while performing for the Houston-based band Wheatfield, which later renamed itself St. Elmo’s Fire. When the band dissolved in 1979, the duo kept performing and the two men have since recorded 21 albums as Trout Fishing in America.

Named after the 1967 novella by Richard Brautigan, the folk-pop duo has earned numerous Parents Choice awards and four Grammy nominations.

Idlet said it’s important for students to get a chance to participate, and hearing the end result of their work is encouraging.

“A light bulb goes off when they get a chance to hear what they’ve done,” Idlet said, and Grimwood added there’s something “magical” about hearing the music come together.

Sisters Mikayla and Melinda Fauss, who attend Martin Luther School in Joplin, both play piano and listen to lots of music at home.

Third-grader Melinda said that by going to the class, “We learned that you always have to have an idea to start a song.”

“And that we have to come up with the lyrics,” Mikayla added, who’s in the fourth grade.

The sisters prepared for the class by rewriting songs they already knew, and they have been listening to the duo’s singles for the past couple days.

“It’s hilarious,” Mikayla said. “My favorite is, ‘My Sister Kissed Her Boyfriend.’”

Their mom, Kay Fauss, said her husband, Ron, had the idea to take the girls to the songwriting workshop. Ron said he listened to the duo a long time ago and has seen them perform before.

“I figured with the way they are and the way the music is, the girls would have a blast,” he said. “It’s exactly what we hoped it would be.”

The couple both said they always encourage the girls to use their imagination.

“We believe that music does help to make a connection for them with just their mental and academic advancement,” Kay added. “And it’s fun.”

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