education

John Lennon’s ‘Real Love’ comes to Livingston Manor

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 6/16/21

The John Lennon Real Love Project came to Livingston Manor Central School District this past week, with a presentation on Monday, June 7 and songwriting workshops later in the week.

The project, a …

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education

John Lennon’s ‘Real Love’ comes to Livingston Manor

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The John Lennon Real Love Project came to Livingston Manor Central School District this past week, with a presentation on Monday, June 7 and songwriting workshops later in the week.

The project, a program of the nonprofit Theatre Within led by singer-songwriters Beth and Scott Bierko, offers children a chance to write their own verses to John Lennon’s “Real Love,” teaching them songwriting basics while guiding them toward Lennon’s message of peace, love and equality.

At Monday’s event, Beth and Scott walked the children of Livingston Manor through a presentation of John Lennon’s life, his musical influences and his legacy. It blended historical recordings of performances by John Lennon and The Beatles with live renditions of Beatles songs performed by Beth and Scott.

While the program was conducted virtually, in conformance with COVID-19 restrictions, Beth and Scott still managed to engage with the children in the workshop, dancing along with them to the songs and encouraging them to move.

The presentation took a tone both informative and inspiring, going over the biographical details of Lennon’s life while emphasizing the values that Lennon championed. It was those values that Beth and Scott emphasized at the program’s close: “Let’s make a promise to one another to follow John Lennon’s example... love, peace, brotherhood, sisterhood and equality.”

The John Lennon Real Love Project

The Real Love Project has traveled a long road to arrive at Livingston Manor. Developed by Theatre Within Executive/Artistic Director Joe Raiola, together with Scott and Beth, the program began in 2014 at Gilda’s Club NYC for children who had lost a parent to cancer, cancer patients, survivors and their family members.

According to Scott, while the program began with a focus on cancer patients and survivors, discussions began a while back around expanding it to include workshops in schools.

Beth and Scott have conducted songwriting workshops in schools for 29 years; working with children in an academic environment is their bread and butter. So when Raiola asked them what their goals were for the project, their answer was clear: They wanted to bring the workshops to schools.

Once that was decided, all that was left was to find a financial partner. Enter Gary Siegel and the Siegel Family Music and Arts Endowment Fund.

The Siegel family fund was created by the Siegel family after the deaths of Lee and Marge Siegel, to continue their legacy of love and support for the arts in Sullivan County. Gary Siegel, their son and a key figure with the fund, has attended Theatre Within’s John Lennon Tribute Concert for the past seven or eight years. He was present at the concert of two years ago, when Raiola announced that Theatre Within was looking to take the Real Love project to schools.

The Siegel family fund had been looking for a project to partner with in bringing arts and education to children in the Sullivan County area. Siegel thought the Real Love project sounded perfect and reached out to Theatre Within.

The collaboration proceeded smoothly from there, and the program was set to premiere in two schools in the fall of 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and Theatre Within decided to entrench. They put the program on hold and began to reconsider what it might look like if presented virtually.

In its original form, the Real Love project only included a workshop portion. When re-thinking the project digitally, says Scott, they realized they could add a presentation section, giving workshop participants context on John Lennon’s life and on his musical influences.

The process of creating that presentation took around 15 months, starting early in 2020. As Scott said, it was a difficult process; “How do you tell the story of a person’s life in 45 minutes... and really knock it out of the park?”

But Theatre Within ultimately formulated a presentation that worked and collaborated with the Siegel family fund to bring the digital presentation to Livingston Manor Central School.

Personal connections

The program continued Friday, June 11, with the hands-on workshops. Two groups of sixth-graders worked with Beth and Scott to discuss the themes of Lennon’s legacy, to craft their own verses to Real Love and to record them with Lennon’s instrumentals in the background and his voice on the chorus. The completed song will be posted on the John Lennon Tribute YouTube page (www.bit.ly/lennontrib24) for students to access and to share with others.

Everyone involved in the project highlighted the final recording the kids get to make together with John Lennon, seeing that as the element which made the project truly special. With luck, the kids will also receive a new understanding of Lennon’s message, and a new appreciation for the values he wrote his songs around.

“For me, that always comes back to the power of Lennon’s message,” says Raiola. “The message of peace, love, equality, justice... never gets old.”

For the Beirkos, the process of songwriting can be uniquely helpful in spreading that message.

“We live in a world that is sharply divided right now, without a lot of good listening,” says Scott. With collaborative songwriting, everyone has to listen to everyone else’s ideas, modeling the type of listening that’s essential for the world at large.

Visit www.theatrewithin.org/john-lennon-real-love-project-workshops for more information.

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