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New songbook, CD teach kids about bay, environment

By Katie Fitzpatrick | The Calvert Recorder,

There’s a fun and interactive way for children to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and the environment at the Calvert Marine Museum.

A songbook and CD, “Singing the Chesapeake: Children’s Songs by Tom Wisner,” is available, the museum said in a news release that called Wisner the “Bard of the Chesapeake.”

Wisner, who died in 2010, was deeply committed to environmental education and awareness, which he shared through many art forms, including music, the museum said.

“Tom was sort of a local icon,” said Sherrod Sturrock, deputy director of the museum. “He spent a lifetime collecting information, talking to old fishermen and boat captains, and sharing it with kids. They’ve managed to put this in a form that makes it accessible to families, kids, a lot of folks.”

The museum’s store manager, Maureen Baughman, said Wisner was a supporter and a friend of the museum.

“We kind of have the same interest in preserving the history and people’s stories of the Chesapeake Bay,” Baughman said of Wisner and the museum.

Sturrock said most of the songs in the book were written by Wisner. Some were written by his longtime collaborator, Teresa Whitaker, and his son Mark Wisner.

Whitaker also compiled the songbook, which contains 20 to 25 songs, in editorial collaboration with Frank Schwartz and Kathleen and Michael Glaser.

Wisner wrote many songs, the news release states, but the ones in the songbook he sang often with children and groups of educators throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

The songs are celebrations of imagination and wonder, and what it means to be “Chesapeake born.”

“What they’ve done over the years is take the songs that [Wisner] wrote with kids in the classroom during his career to create this songbook, and then there’s a CD of either Tom or Frank and Teresa singing these songs,” Sturrock said. “They’re actually great; I’ve listened to most of them.”

Sturrock said Wisner would write songs with the children he taught. She said he and the children would create songs about what types of animals live in the bay and what they do, and “put it in a song as part of a lesson.”

“It’s done from a kid’s point of view, and they’re really fun,” Sturrock said.

Although Wisner could sing the songs, he could not write sheet music for them, Sturrock said. Whitaker and Schwartz enlisted the help of local music teachers, all credited in the book, to notate the songs.

Upon Wisner’s death, “most of his stuff that he had collected over his lifetime,” including his songs, was given to the museum’s Center for the Chesapeake Story archives, Sturrock said.

According to the Chestory virtual archives Web site, the Chestory archive is a collection of items that includes personal journals, lesson plans and artwork that can be used by anyone interested in teaching or learning about the Chesapeake Bay in a fun and easy way.

The songbook is enhanced with Wisner’s artwork and writings, his students’ artwork and photos by other artists. It is a strong resource for Chesapeake Bay region teachers, the museum said, and supports the implementation of Maryland’s new environmental literacy standards, the first in the United States.

Sturrock called the publication of the book “very timely,” because of the new environmental literacy requirement in schools.

“Tom’s philosophy was you shouldn’t just teach the science. You need to teach it through art, music and movement to bring all of these disciplines together, which makes sense because you’re reaching all different learners,” Sturrock said.

A critical thing about the songbook, she said, is that children are not just learning about water in general, but about “water where you live.” The songbook allows teachers to use material developed specifically about the bay, which Sturrock said makes it more relevant to children. Sturrock said she thinks children will have a personal, fun experience when they read the book and sing along with the accompanying CD.

“Instead of just learning about crabs, now they’re also going to sing about crabs and move like a crab, and maybe they’re going to draw a crab,” she said. “It just layers onto what they’re learning.”

The CD that accompanies the songbook includes some tracks never heard or recorded before and some of Wisner singing with children. The CD was produced by Jim Fox, of Lion and Fox Recording Studios, the news release states.

Baughman said some of the proceeds made from selling the book will go to the Chestory, of which Wisner was a co-founder, and some will be used to help continue the many programs at the museum, such as educational programs and exhibits.

The songbook and CD set is available at the Calvert Marine Museum store. The book also is available from the Chestory at www.chestory.org.

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