Partners in song at the Hancock School


They didn’t have TV, so they didn’t play video games. Their neigh­bor­hood, they felt, was a big fam­ily, and they didn’t text their friends; they talked to them. Writ­ten mes­sages didn’t flash across tiny screens; they were on pa­per that they could hold and touch and read.

But that was yes­ter­day. Yes, yes­ter­day.

“They” were seni­or cit­izens who last week shared with John Han­cock Demon­stra­tion School pu­pils what they re­called about grow­ing up long ago. The kids and seni­ors took those re­min­is­cences and com­posed eight songs about them.

They had some pro­fes­sion­al help.

Song­writers Paul Re­isler and Paddy Dougherty, who make up Kid Pan Al­ley, guided kids and seni­ors in put­ting to­geth­er lyr­ics and sug­gest­ing how those lyr­ics could be put to mu­sic.

Twenty-two seni­or cit­izens, in­clud­ing 10 from the JCC Klein Branch in Somer­ton, par­ti­cip­ated in the week of work­shops at the Mor­rell Av­en­ue school, said in­struct­or Susan Daly. The old­est was 89. The pu­pils were in third and fourth grades. It was the first time for  “in­tergen­er­a­tion­al song­writ­ing” in a Phil­adelphia school, she ad­ded, and the big fi­nale was con­certs at the school on Fri­day.

Re­isler and Dougherty, who live in Vir­gin­ia, worked with the adults from the school’s neigh­bor­hood who just talked to the pu­pils, who then sug­ges­ted snatches of those con­ver­sa­tions that could be used as lyr­ics.

On Wed­nes­day, re­tired teach­er Hinda Gold­berg; her hus­band, Har­vey; re­tired teach­er and long-term sub­sti­tute teach­er Joe Tell­er; Frances Griffin, moth­er of prin­cip­al Bill Griffin; Daly’s hus­band, Den­nis; and Pam and Ed Zen­zola, who provided fin­an­cial sup­port for the work­shop, put their heads to­geth­er with a few pu­pils to com­pose an­oth­er song.

They already had come up with a chor­us when they star­ted work Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

We were young once

Yes­ter­day, yes, yes­ter­day

Back in the days when

A vil­lage really raised a child

Back in the days when

The neigh­bor­hood could be

Mom to every­one

We were young once

Yes­ter­day, yes, yes­ter­day.

Dougherty led the small group in singing the lyr­ics and Re­isler worked out the melody.

“We need to write some verses,” Re­isler told them. “A verse has dif­fer­ent words to tell a story.”

With sur­pris­ing quick­ness, the kids and adults came up with four more lines, and de­cided the rhymes should be in the third and fourth lines.

Re­isler told them the rhymes didn’t have to be ex­act and didn’t have to be at the end of lines. “Rush” and “touch” are the rhymes in the fol­low­ing verse:

When we spoke it was face to face

We looked each oth­er in the eye

We wrote let­ters you could hold and touch back then

Sit­ting on the porch, life wasn’t so rushed.

After adding the first verse to the re­frain, the still-in­com­plete song was sung be­fore the next verse was ad­ded.

Re­isler asked the kids if they knew what a porch is.

“It’s like a patio,” one of the chil­dren answered. 

Re­isler said each kid had a chance to con­trib­ute, and that the melod­ies were based on how the kids felt the lyr­ics should be sung.

Not all the songs were co­oper­at­ive in­tergen­er­a­tion­al songs, said Daly. Dur­ing Kid Pan Al­ley’s week at the school, the kids also wrote songs on their own, she said, “about just what they wanted.”

The adults said the kids were sur­prised by some of the things they told them about life dec­ades ago, when the seni­ors were the young­sters’ age.

The pu­pils were as­ton­ished that the adults didn’t have TVs when they were grow­ing up, Daly said. “And they were amazed with what you could buy for a nick­el or a dime,” she ad­ded.

The kids tried to wrap their minds around the concept of five-and-dime stores by liken­ing them to dol­lar stores or Five Be­low out­lets.

Re­isler, the Kid Pan Al­ley mu­si­cian, said the kids couldn’t un­der­stand why he doesn’t play video games. He told them he has writ­ten 4,000 to 5,000 songs. He asked the pu­pils how many they thought he would have writ­ten had he been play­ing video games.

Daly, mean­while, was sur­prised how quickly the kids were able to  put to­geth­er their songs. And es­sen­tially, Re­isler said, they were cre­at­ing out of noth­ing.

Daly said Kid Pan Al­ley was paid via a grant and sev­er­al thou­sand dol­lars con­trib­uted by the Zen­zolas, who viewed the whole idea as a pos­it­ive ex­per­i­ence for the chil­dren.

ldquo;This has been so won­der­ful,” Pam Zen­zola said. “This could change a child’s life.”

For the adults, however, singing songs based on their own re­min­is­cences seemed at one point al­most achingly nos­tal­gic, es­pe­cially when they sang the phrase “yes­ter­day, yes, yes­ter­day.”

Our games were simple then

Jump­ing rope and throw­ing jacks

We kicked the can, flipped the cards back then

Play­ing games ’til dusk in our back yard

We had a dif­fer­ent frame of mind

We had a dif­fer­ent point of view

We settled our dif­fer­ences peace­fully

Be­cause we call agreed to dis­agree … 

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or


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