It’s a raw, rainy day as I watch the last of the oak leaves blow away outside my office window, but my mood isn’t dampened by the weather. I’m still on a high from seeing Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour over the weekend with my daughter and a movie theater packed with other girls and moms (plus a few dads, boys, and grandparents) who sang their hearts out to every song over the course of two hours and 45 minutes. I loved every second of that movie—and I sang just as loudly as the 6th grade girl pack when “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” came on.
Swifties, as the powerhouse performer’s superfans are known, are undoubtedly among the most passionate pop music fandoms. Proceeds from Swift’s ongoing concert tour–the highest grossing tour ever for a woman, and second highest-grossing overall–recently elevated her to billionaire status. The Eras Tour movie is the highest grossing concert film ever, with over $203 million in ticket sales to date.
So what is it that inspires the fervent devotion of Swifties–and Beliebers, the Beyhive, Little Monsters, BTS ARMY, and countless other music fans out there? Certainly there’s a sense of community and belonging amongst these groups, along with musicians who can deliver the whole package when it comes to entertainment value. Personally, I think it speaks to songwriting as an incredibly powerful form of literacy and expression that can unite us across different ages, backgrounds, and cultures.
We often tend to think of literacy as the outcome of an instructional practice around reading and writing. But literacy is also a way to communicate and make sense of the world, and music can play an important role in complementing the pedagogy and helping students with their acquisition of skills.
Research shows that singing and songwriting activities support literacy instruction in the areas of letter names and sounds, phonemic awareness, print conventions, background knowledge, vocabulary, decoding, and writing. There’s also evidence that when kids study music—intensively and over long periods of time—they become better readers.
Of course, there’s so much more to music, lyrics, and why they matter to us as humans. According to Jon Gailmor, a Vermont musician and one of CLiF’s professional presenters who visits schools to lead songwriting workshops, he loves writing songs with children because it helps them “discover the magic of our language, which becomes a skill to enhance lives forever.”
Gailmor describes songwriting with students as a collaborative process, one where “the fledgling songwriters brainstorm, listen to each other’s ideas, appreciate their classmates’ perspectives, and end up with a collective piece of beauty.”
Ownership is key, from the moment they choose their theme to the final melodic note, and literacy principles are embedded throughout the experience. “They learn to use the absolute best words in order to make their composition truly come alive,” Gailmor says. “The emphasis is on vivid writing, so the listener can picture what the composers are singing about.”
In April 2023, Gailmor visited Hardwick Elementary School as part of their CLiF Year of the Book grant, and worked with classrooms to write their own songs. The resulting original songs, “The Best Pets,” “The Kindergarten Song,” and “My Grown-Ups,” were performed live at a schoolwide concert. (Click the links to hear them for yourself!)
While these songs may not deliver the same feeling as being at a big stadium concert tour, or wield the emotional punch of, say, Swift’s “All Too Well,” it’s impossible to listen without smiling. Plus there’s good news for parents: the Hardwick 4th graders lyrically maintain that they “wouldn’t give up their grown-ups even for $100 bucks.” A powerful message, delivered in song.