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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com