PORTLAND – Kyara Dorvee can’t believe what she is hearing herself sing.

“It sounds so good, it sounds so good,” she says, a smile streaking across her face. “That sounds so cool. I’m really proud of us right now.”

Dorvee, a student at Casco Bay High School, is sitting on a folding cafeteria bench among a small gathering of her peers. They’ve taken themselves out of their regular humanities class to work with professional musicians from 317 Main St Community Music Center in Yarmouth.

For six consecutive Mondays, two professional musicians associated with 317 Main St have come to the school to work with a half-dozen students on songwriting and performance. The group, which also includes Charlotte MacLean, Sam Balentine, Cam Finn, Sam Anderson-Patnode and Cormac Brown started with a head full of ideas and has turned those random thoughts into finished, polished songs.

With guitars and mandolins in hand, the students plow their way through lyrics and melodies they’ve been building from the ground up. After several weeks of hard work, the songs feel well-formed and cohesive, leading to Dorvee’s sense of satisfaction.

The students will perform their songs coffee-house style at 5 p.m. Thursday at the expeditionary learning school on Allen Avenue.

This is a new approach to music education, said Casco Bay principal Derek Pierce. Because it is a small school, Casco Bay does not have music faculty. “We have to get creative about how to weave music meaningfully and regularly into the life of our school,” Pierce said.

The school’s needs dovetail perfectly with 317 Main St’s mission, said John Williams, executive director of the community music center.

“We see music as a tremendous vehicle to help promote community and self-expression,” he said. “We have made a concerted effort to reach out into the broader community to establish collaborations with area schools, elderly care facilities and other programs for under-served populations.”

The work of 317 Main St becomes especially helpful in times of tight budgets and reduced funding for arts education. Where schools cannot provide music education, 317 Main St can, Williams said.

Andrew Martelle and Matt Shipman, the musicians from 317 Main St, serve as role models for the students at Casco Bay. Martelle recently moved back to Maine from Nashville, where he made his living as a touring and session musician. Shipman is part of the thriving acoustic music scene in Portland, and plays in several bands around town.

Both make their living with their music, and both are glad for the chance to share their skills, insight and experience with the students from Casco Bay.

“We’re just trying to guide the process for them,” said Shipman. “They have good ideas and musical ability. They just need some guidance.”

The songs these students are writing are entirely their own. Shipman and Martelle each work with small groups at a time, laboring over each lyric, each chord progression, each turn of a phrase.

“What do you want this song to say?” Martelle asks Finn, who hatched the idea of the song he is working on with Dorvee and Balentine.

Finn thinks about that question for a moment, then answers, “It’s sort of about my frustration. It’s self-reflective and venting. It’s a song about anger.”

The students write the song as a team. One suggests a lyric, or sometimes just an idea, and the others add to it. Martelle offers techniques and hints.

He discourages them from thinking that every line has to rhyme, or even relate to the one before. Maybe they should change the dynamic of the song by altering tempo and introducing chord progressions they hadn’t considered.

“You don’t need to try to say a lot,” Martelle tells the students as they struggle to find the right words. “You just need to figure out what you want to say. I think it should have a statement. You’re a statement kind of guy, aren’t you,” he says to Finn.

“Yeah, I am,” Finn answers.

“So try a different approach. Just keep working it,” Martelle says. “When people have writing sessions, they last a couple of hours at a time, and they have to happen regularly. Writing is hard work. If you wait for divine inspiration to happen to you, it just doesn’t happen. It’s a lot of work.”

Shipman and Martelle spend about 90 minutes with the students each week. During this session, Martelle’s group cleaned up the first verse of their song, which was begun the week before, and the students wrote the pre-chorus and chorus. When the session ended, they were working on a second verse.

Shipman spent most of his morning working one-on-one with MacLean. Her writing partner was absent, so she had his total attention.

Just before the groups broke up and the students went back to their regular classes, they came together to share what they accomplished.

MacLean went first. Playing softly and singing in a faint, scared voice, she navigated her way through fragments of her song. It started with the lyric, “If I write my name a thousand times, will I remember who I am.”

When she finished, her peers cheered loudly.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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