OSAGE | Using a combination of art, music, reading – and fun – author and songwriter Chad Elliott led three schools’ worth of elementary school students on a journey into new worlds as part of a literacy residency last week.
A culmination of those sessions happened Sept. 24, when students from the county’s schools and their parents and teachers gathered at the Krapek Family Fine Arts Center at the Cedar River Complex in Osage to celebrate their time with Elliott, called “Wilderman’s Treetop Tales Literacy Night.” His time in Mitchell County was sponsored by the Fine Arts Council of Mitchell County.
Elliott met with the students in Osage, Riceville and St. Ansgar throughout the week. Using music and portions of his own works to trigger imaginations, students created animal characters whose images appeared not only in paintings created by Elliott in each school, but that also came alive in songs that were performed by Elliott and students.
“Grumpy Dog … felt like a can of dog food left too long on the shelf … that dog went round and round, but no friends could be found,” was one verse from the St. Ansgar creation.
From Osage came characters such as Donkley the Donkey, Chet the Cow and Chief the Dog, who sang, “Why can’t we be friends? What can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends? Friends until the end.”
Riceville students liked the idea of having their characters dress in goofy Halloween costumes.
“So let’s throw a party!” was their chorus.
“We got very creative; and it all came from the minds of your children,” said Elliott, who played the songs on guitar.
Songs were filled with colorful animals whose antics showed up in paintings. School by school, students were invited to the stage to sing along with the songs they created. Paintings for each school were displayed on stage as well.
Elliott wove lessons into his presentation. When talking about one of his own songs about a grumpy tomcat, he told the students that “you have to learn to love the grumpy people in your life.”
In a question and answer session after the performance, he told kids about the value of practicing something if they wanted to be good at it, and that making mistakes was not a bad thing; in fact, he said, “it’s the best way to learn.”
Elliott, 41, a native of Coon Rapids, has served as an artist in residence in variety of venues and his artwork has been seen in illustrations of his own books – his second in a series of “Wilderman’s Treetop Tales” will soon be released – as well as in commissioned works. He is a touring singer and songwriter who has performed in over 150 live shows.
Awards for his songwriting include the songwriting contest held as part of the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival; he was also a third place winner in the International Song Contest and won an Iowa Motion Picture award for best soundtrack.
Glenda Ross, a board member with the fine arts council, applauded his time with students. She said Elliott worked hard with students, who clearly enjoyed the time with him.
“I think he created 30 different songs in three days with the students,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”