- Associated Press - Sunday, November 30, 2014

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) - Northampton High School has become a more soulful place thanks to a new songwriting course this year, where students have the opportunity to write and perform original music.

The one-semester class was open to students with varying levels of musical experience. For this fall, 15 students enrolled, and while the class will not be offered in the spring, its teacher, Beau Flahive, said she hopes to offer it again next year if there is money for it in the school budget.

Flahive is a teacher in the fine and performing arts department and the school’s choral director, in charge of the chorus, chamber choir and the a cappella group the Northamptones. She also directs singing for the annual school musical. She said the songwriting course gives students a chance to express themselves musically.

“The creative process for every human being is organic. It’s innate. It’s there; it really is,” she said. “A song is the most natural thing in the world.”

The class will hold a performance for the community at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 in the high school’s Little Theater.

During a recent class, students took turns playing their original compositions. Northampton High School senior Paris Smith played the piano as she sang lyrics describing her relationship with her father, with whom she has not lived since she was about a year old.

“You reveal your soul when you write a song,” she said.

The course became possible after extra funding in last year’s budget allowed Flahive to teach an additional class, said Principal Bryan Lombardi. After they discussed possibilities, he said they both decided that a songwriting class would be the best way to provide a musical opportunity to students who might not have had prior training.

“Anything that we can do that gives more students opportunities to learn and to access their passions and interests is fantastic for the school and the school community,” Lombardi said.

Most of the students in the class are not trained musicians, said Flahive, which prompted her to spend the first week of school establishing a safe and nonjudgmental environment, she said.

The students’ first assignment was to bring in a song they had already written, or to write a new one. Some students just wrote verses, and teamed up with classmates who had more of a knack for creating melodies, she said.

Flahive said that this sometimes created “the most unlikely pairs of kids,” with students who she might have never seen walking down the hall together teaming up to make songs.

Other songs performed for a visiting reporter included “Deep Diving” by freshman Natalie Kaye, “Masquerade” by junior Buddy Scott and “Blood of our Fathers” by senior Ileana Curtis. Some played the guitar or the piano while they sang, while others sang as Flahive or another student played chords.

“They’ve each kind of found their identity as a composer,” said Flahive.

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