ST PAUL, Minn. — Located within the historic Rondo neighborhood, St. Peter Claver Catholic School's mission is to foster academic excellence in all areas of study, including music.
So, for three months now, its seventh- and eighth-graders have been creating original songs.
"You've got to practice, practice, practice," eighth-grader Alianna said. "At first, I wanted it to be Harry Styles and SZA mixed together and then it was like, OK, I've got to find my own voice because I can't just copy them."
Their teacher, Chadwick Phillips, is an artist in residence with Walker West Music Academy. Through the academy's Without Walls program, he comes to St. Peter Claver once a week.
"Last year, the conclusion was them performing and this year, the conclusion is them recording the songs that they created," he said.
That's what they did Tuesday on a field trip to the nearby High School for Recording Arts. Alianna says she was at first nervous because a classmate she worked with on a song was absent. But with Phillips' encouragement, she eventually sang into the mic, making few mistakes.
"I'm going to be smiling so hard when I go tell my mom because I tell my mom everything," she said. "I'll be like, 'Mom, oh, my gosh, I went to the studio today and the song came out so good.'"
"I can tell that she already has it in her," Phillips added. "The talent's there. It's raw."
Phillips says, once mixed, they'll upload all songs to SoundCloud. While their lyrics and melodies are original, most of the accompanying instrumentals or beats came from royalty-free music banks.
"Actually, one of the students in here was like, 'OK, are we getting paid for this?' I'm like, 'You're 13,'" Phillips said laughing before pausing for a moment. "But you're supposed to ask that, low-key."
"It's building community skills, it's building group working skills, it's building self-confidence and esteem," he continued.
He says such skills benefit students even if they don't choose to pursue music careers. Alianna, for example, says she would consider being a singer but is into archery lately and would like to join a team. Maybe we'll see her in the Olympics one day.
Ninety-seven percent of St. Peter Claver students are students of color. Its parent church has been serving Black Catholics for more than 125 years.
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