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Sixth-graders at Sasebo's Darby school cut new CD

By GREG TYLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 27, 2003

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Just as Jack N. Darby Elementary School students headed for summer break, a hot new CD single started appearing throughout the Hario Housing Village campus.

It’s a snappy song with a message of pride in accomplishment, melded with upbeat, energetic tunes. And it should have plenty of energy: 44 members of the school’s two sixth-grade classes recorded it.

At the school’s final assembly, the sixth-graders performed the original “Our School Song” for the rest of the student body — and it quickly became a hit.

This spring, fifth-grade teacher Stephen Duster wanted to conduct a recording project with Darby students. He bounced the idea off of John Mueller, school principal, who pointed out that the sixth-grade classes featured some strong voices with no real outlet for expressing their talents.

In addition to teaching, Duster is an accomplished professional musician and composer. Next year, he’ll also teach music at Darby. He tinkered with melodies at home, where he has recording and production equipment. Then, with wife Liza, Duster settled on a tune with lyrics.

Each of the four verses includes the line, “Sing with me, our school song.”

The verses encourage and inspire the students to engage the school experience with mind, body and soul, as in verse three: “Fix your mind, to the goal. Head up high, as we race.”

“I tried to touch on the good things I’ve seen going on at Darby … and to encourage and inspire … to uplift the school community,” Duster said.

He called the feedback encouraging: “Just about everybody I talk to, including the kids, says they really like it.”

Mueller said the new tune is now Darby’s school song, adding, “I encouraged Stephen with this project. He’s an accomplished musician, and it’s really kind of neat that he wanted to do something like this.”

The sixth grade “is kind of a transitional time so this was just a great finale for them,” Mueller said. “They performed the song the last day of school, and all the kids really liked it.”

After many practices, the sixth-graders and Duster gathered one day in a Darby classroom where Duster had set up microphones, digital recorders and other professional recording equipment from his home studio.

“I thought about having them all come to my apartment, where I already had the equipment, but I figured it would just be too crowded,” Duster said.

After recording about 30 versions, he spent “four or five hard days” cutting and pasting the best recordings of the song to create the final product.

“It’s rare that elementary school students would get the chance to not only sing and make music, but to make a professional recording of it is another thing,” he said.

Duster said two of the young singers — Kiara Rivers and Felicia Touzon — have impressive voices. “Both of them are good, especially Kiara, who has a very good natural talent. She could be your next ‘American Idol’ if she takes voice lessons and works on it.”

He gave a CD to each student who participated and has burned dozens more for staff members including Mary Clemons, the Darby school secretary.

“It is just great that he was able to do that with them. I really like the song, and I think all the kids got a real kick out of it,” she said.


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