Elders inspire campers
Last updated 8/23/2022 at Noon
Young artists from a creativity camp performed original songs, read poetry, and showed their paintings at Sisters Art Works last Friday. But this camp had a special twist: the kids also created songs inspired by local elders.
Earlier in the week, campers attended the senior luncheon at Sisters Community Church. They asked questions, listened, and took notes on their elders’ life stories, favorite foods, and more.
Back at camp, youth came up with song ideas based on luncheon conversations. Potential titles included “They Know More, Thanks,” “Respect Your Elders,” “Disco Junk,” and “25 Cents a Gallon.”
At the camp’s final performance on Friday, the Stargazer group performed “Jo-Ann Says.” The catchy chorus was chanted rather than sung: “Jo-Ann says! Strawberry ice cream and cinnamon rolls — but not the jeans with 16,000 holes!”
Wearing jeans with a whole lot of holes, camper Brennan Johnson sang: “We used to use barrels as skis/ I’m 92 but I’m not crazy,” quoting an interviewee.
The Nature of Expression was one of several daytime art and music “creativity camps” presented by Sisters Folk Festival. Instructors strung together art forms—painting, poetry, music, songwriting — to weave a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary arts experience.
The instructors are uncommonly gifted and experienced, both as teachers and as artists. Beth Wood is known as a Sisters Folk Festival performer and director of Sisters Songworks. She is also a published poet, winner of an Oregon Book Award.
“We did a lot of collaboration, group songwriting,” said Wood of camp. “What I find is so wonderful about this group is that they were really open to all ideas. There was nobody saying, ‘No! I don’t like that.’ Listening to each other and honoring each other’s contributions — it was really fun.”
The kids of Mountain Road group sang their chorus about a day of love and unity. In their song, each verse focused on a particular elder’s story. “She survived World War II/ Hid in a basement for a week...She is 92 years old/ Her name is Whitey,” went one.
Another celebrated: “He has cockatoos and parakeets/ Dedicated acres to wildlife...His favorite food is rotisserie chicken/ His name is Ben.”
Kaila Lang, a 12-year-old with strong performance skills and stage presence, joined Wood in playing guitar while the group sang. Entering seventh grade, Lang attends Redmond Proficiency Academy online. She said she’s been writing her own songs since she can remember.
Her older brother taught her three chords on the ukulele long ago. When her family moved to Sisters Country, she began guitar lessons from “Miss Becky,” Becky French of Bald Eagle Music.
As for her singing chops? “I just sing because I love to sing,” Lang said.
“I loved it,” she said of the camp. “It was great to meet kids in Sisters, other kids that like music and art. The teachers were great. Miss Beth has an amazing voice, and Miss Judy is an amazing artist.”
Camp co-instructor Judy Fuentes is the art instructor at Sisters Middle School, with over twenty years’ experience teaching. An artist herself, Fuentes studied art at the University of Michigan.
“What was cool and what surprised me was how engaged and eager the students were to participate and explore and play in the visual and lyrical arts,” she said. Many kids used nature as a metaphor or subject for poems, artwork, and songs.
Meeting with elders was a new addition to the curriculum, dreamed up by Fuentes and Wood in a brainstorming session about art being of service. Fuentes used the term seasoned citizens rather than senior citizens.
“What I found especially delightful was the kids’ ability to descend upon the seasoned citizens and ask heartfelt questions about their stories and their lives,” Fuentes said.
Abriana Pollard, a 14-year-old freshman at Sisters High, showed a painting that popped with electric-blue skies and a bright red mushroom. “I was a bit intimidated at first,” Pollard said of the seniors. But once the interviews began, “they were really nice to us.”
“The way that the kids talked about it when they came back, the experience rippled and reverberated back home to families,” said Fuentes. “I couldn’t have anticipated all the joyful benefits of intergenerational connection.”
The songs were funny at times—some seasoned citizens did not appreciate holey jeans, baggy pants, or disco—but sometimes touching. As campers Pollard, Taylor Pearlston, and Mia Ferguson sang, to cowbell accompaniment:
“Met in Cali/ Born in the ’30s/ Together in 1949.... Seven grandkids, a dog named Lola / Families grow apart over time... 66 years together/ True love that never dies / Having a sense of humor/ is also very wise.”