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“A Feast of Families”

A couple of years ago I launched a songwriting residency that I’d been thinking about for some time.  “A Feast of Families” brings elementary students and seniors together over food and songs.  I’ve done several of them now, in all sizes of schools and communities, and they’ve been wonderful.  Following is an edited version of an article about one that I did in Walled Lake this past December.  If you just want the pertinent info, scroll down to the Info part of this page.


The sounds that resonated recently through Mary Ellen Guest Elementary in Walled Lake were pretty typical for a school cafeteria: the clatter of dishes, students laughing and squabbling, adults talking above the din.  Not so typical, however, were the other diners sitting around the large tables, which included parents, grandparents, siblings and senior citizens.  The occasion was the wrap-up of a songwriting residency, called "A Feast of Families," developed by Ann Arbor Emmy-winning songwriter Kitty Donohoe.  The program, available to Michigan schools, brings students together with seniors in their community to write songs based on collected oral histories.  Each older adult is encouraged to contribute a recipe to the project that in some way reflects their heritage or a past memory.




After four school days spent with the students, writing and polishing their songs, Ms. Donohoe joined the young songwriters to present a celebratory concert attended by students, family members, seniors, and the community.  Students sang the new songs and presented the seniors with booklets that contained the songs and recipes. 
Afterward, all took part in the "feast" portion of the program to share a meal and socialize.  Many of the dishes for the dinner were provided by volunteer parents using submitted recipes which, in the case of Mary Ellen Guest, included a large platter of bologna sandwiches on white bread -- the favorite meal of a couple of the men interviewed.


"This has been a fabulous project," said fifth-grade teacher Karrie Martin.  "It looks like all of Walled Lake is here tonight.  Our entire staff was energized by the residency and our kids have been over the moon.  They all love working with Kitty - a 'star' in their eyes - and their connection to the seniors they interviewed has been amazing."   The seniors -- from Grand Court, a senior residential facility in Novi -- were equally enthralled, eagerly anticipating the "feast" portion of the program, when they could hear the songs and spend time with "their" kids again.
Several parents commented on the students' excitement about the experience and the value of bringing such community programs into the schools.



“A Feast of Families” brings me into an elementary classroom (3rd through 6th grades) for 5 days to write songs with the students that are based on oral histories they will have previously collected from a senior center, living facility, church, or other gathering spot for elders in their community. Using the Michigan State University/4H Foodways and Folk Patterns program materials as guidelines for the interviews, we take the multi-curriculum approach of music, writing, and history, and compose an average of 4 songs per class, using traditional folk songs for melody templates.  The seniors are also asked to contribute a recipe that has special meaning to them; a dish they might have eaten as a child, something they served to their own families, or a dish that came from their country of origin.
The week culminates with a presentation to the student body of the new songs, and an evening gathering where the students, families, seniors, and the entire community, are invited to join together for a public performance of the new songs, share in some refreshments (dishes made from some of the collected recipes), a presentation to the seniors of booklets with the songs and recipes, and a celebration of the new friendships.

For information on regular school programs, please go to the Family Fare page.
Funding for most of the residencies has been through grants.  For pricing and grant information, please contact me through the Contact page.

Kitty Donohoe