Last month in February, I went on one of the best and most fulfilling trips I’ve had to date. My boyfriend Dom, and I, went to Hinckley, Maine, to visit my friend Mady who has been teaching at a Charter school, The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences (MeANS), since last October. The school is on a beautiful campus comprised of 2,450 acres of forest and farmland. It’s the first High School in Maine to focus on agriculture, sustainability, forestry and independent living and is a small, close-knit school of about 45 or so kids. Mady and I got the idea that I would go up there, play a show for the kids in their on-campus theatre, and then I would teach a songwriting workshop the next day.
So with Mady and the staff at MeANS, we planned a Valentine’s Day Fundraiser gig for February 14th to raise money for the music and arts program at the school. The school also collected canned goods for the local food pantry. The show itself made the local paper and got a lot of people in the area to come out. Read the article here. Some of the teachers and faculty also created a bake sale to contribute to the fundraiser, and sold amazing gourmet cupcakes, along with coffee, tea, and other yummy goodies. Mady and the kids, along with the amazing staff from the school organized the event. Mady had helped one of the students, Tim Thompson, find an internship at a musical equipment store, and he was able to borrow sound equipment from the studio for the gig. Many of the kids helped set up the event including the sound equipment and another student Jake Gerry, helped run sound for the show. The show was amazing, I played to a quiet room, full of people listening and taking it in. And I was doing the same (it’s not often you play to a quiet room in NYC). Mady sang a few songs with me and a couple of the students performed before me, and they were amazing. They had such beautiful voices and amazing talent. Afterwards, I got to meet the students. They were all so excited and I was so happy to be there.
The next day, I taught the songwriting workshop. Out of the 45 or so kids that attend the school, about 16 signed up for the class, so I held two classes of about 8 kids. I used a writing exercise that I learned from a songwriting group that I am a part of in Brooklyn, The Awkward Book Club. I had everyone write a word on a piece of paper, so that we had a total of 8 or 9 words. Then Dom and I wrote these words on the board and asked each student to write something, anything, using at least two of the words. At first I think everyone, including myself, was a little shy to read what they wrote, but after the 10 minutes of writing was done, one by one, each student started to read. I was blown away by what they wrote! They were so thoughtful. Some kids wrote raps, some wrote beautiful poems and stories. one student used some of the words to write letters to her family members, telling them how each much they mean to her. Everyone wrote something that was really thoughtful and creative.
Later in the day after the two classes were done, I told the kids to come back down to the classroom if they wanted to play guitar, sing songs, or do some more songwriting. A few kids came back and we played some tunes. Tim asked me to teach him one of my songs, Don’t Lock the Front Door. When school was over that day, I felt a happiness that I have never felt before. I was so happy to have met the kids, amazed by what they wrote, and so excited to have been able to teach them and learn from them. The rest of the weekend, me, Dom, and Mady and some of the friends we met there explored Maine and had an amazing time (smelting is pretty much one of the most fun things to do, and no, it does not involve metal work..). Dom had lobster for the first time, we ate some amazing food, and went snowshoeing on the Good Will-Hinckley campus. After those few days, I felt as though I could do nothing for the rest of this year and still that trip would have made it a meaningful one.
A couple of weeks later, I got a message on my facebook wall from Tim saying, “thank you for inspiring me to do this”, along with a link to his sound cloud page. Tim, and a couple of the other students recorded my song, Don’t Lock the Front Door. Tim is singing lead and playing guitar, Alex West is playing electric, and a couple of the other students are singing the chorus at the end along with Tim.
The same week that I got that facebook message, a lot of cool things had happened, I got to play the Highline Ballroom for the first time in New York, I started to mix my new album, I met Tony Danza at a show, but when I heard this song, I felt a different kind of happiness that I truly cannot put into words. MeANS is an amazing place, I am so proud of Mady for what she’s done there, and so impressed by the school itself. And I am so proud of these kids. I feel so lucky to have met them, and I just cannot wait to get back to Maine to see them again.
Listen to this amazing cover of Don’t Lock the Front Door by Tim Thompson, backed by the students at MeANS: Alex West on vocals and electric guitar, along with Keifer Shultz, Isla Brazier, and Olivia Broadric all on back up vocals.
And if you are ever near Hinckley, Maine, check out this magical place. MeANS has a beautiful stage where they host events. You can read more about the school here and the man behind much of what makes MeANS and Good Will Hinckley magical.