Journalist Gail Sheehy Teams Up With Peter Yarrow to Create 'Kid Rebels,' A Podcast That Documents A Movement - 27 East

Arts & Living

Arts & Living / 1563365

Journalist Gail Sheehy Teams Up With Peter Yarrow to Create ‘Kid Rebels,’ A Podcast That Documents A Movement

icon 3 Photos
Gail Sheehy and Peter Yarrow in Flordia with the Parkland students.

Gail Sheehy and Peter Yarrow in Flordia with the Parkland students.

Peter Yarrow during the songwriting workshop with Parkland students.

Peter Yarrow during the songwriting workshop with Parkland students.

Peter Yarrow in Flordia working with the Parkland students.

Peter Yarrow in Flordia working with the Parkland students.

authorAnnette Hinkle on Nov 20, 2019

It’s long been said that music has the power to heal, and while the pessimists among us may argue that this sentiment is nothing more than wishful thinking, in the spring of 2018, journalist and author Gail Sheehy witnessed firsthand just how effective music can be when it comes to healing society’s deepest wounds.

In fact, she was so moved by what she saw, she made a podcast about it — a four part series titled “Kid Rebels with Gail Sheehy.”

Though she has decades of journalistic experience under her belt, podcasting was an entirely new medium for Sheehy. But she felt it was the best way to share the story of a group of students from Marjorie Stoneman-Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida, who, in the wake of the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at their school that took the lives of 14 classmates and three staff members, were able to take the first steps toward healing thanks to a musical workshop led by Sheehy’s old friend, Peter Yarrow.

Yarrow is best known as Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, the folk group whose moving songs and protest anthems spoke to the youth of America in the 1960s, encouraging them to use their collective voices to rise up, right wrongs and speak truth to power. Which is why, after being asked to write an anthem for the Parkland kids for use in their anti-gun rally, Yarrow suggested a different solution.

“Let me go down to Parkland with a dozen of the most gifted activist songwriters I know and not write songs for them, but write songs with them so we help them get their voices out,” Yarrow explained in an episode of “Kid Rebels.”

“Music. It’s music that can move us to action. I experienced that with Paul and Mary in the 1960s when we were part of the Civil Rights movement, in a very profound way,” said Yarrow who firmly believed the same could be done for the students of Parkland.

So in May 2018, Yarrow traveled to Florida with his daughter, Bethany Yarrow, and several legendary activists of the ’60s Civil Rights Movement. There, he led a two-day musical workshop at the home of a Parkland student. He called his initiative The Parkland Project and described it as a creative collaboration of student songwriters, musicians and vocalists who together, created a unifying call for action and change.

“Peter is a fountain of social change ideas and he called and said ‘I’m going down to Parkland, I’m going get a dozen singer/songwriter buddies too and inspire these kids to write their own songs from the trauma and bring music to the anti-gun movement. Would you like to come?’” Sheehy recalled. “I said, ‘Would I?’ I went with my iPhone — I wanted to record this incredible moment — I was the fly who landed on the walls, and went into the rooms where they were working.”

Because school was in session during the workshop, the group could meet only from about 4 to 9 p.m. each evening. Yet even in that brief time, the transformation of those students, Sheehy notes, was profound and it started almost immediately.

“It began to happen within the first few hours,” she said. “It started out with kids on the floor, their arms wrapped around their knees, looking off into outer space, totally in trauma. Then because of Peter’s magic, he was singing for them and reviving the Civil Rights Movement, explaining how it metastasized and changed the country through music. Then he got them singing ‘Blowing in the Wind.’”

“That got them. They literally bloomed like little dead flower blossoms, and were hungry for more,” Sheehy said.

As a group, the students and musicians talked, sang, wrote down their thoughts, shared poetry and soon, turned grief into song. Meanwhile, Sheehy recorded it all, and those recordings became the basis for her four-part podcast.

“I had this incredible catbird seat to watch them come back to life,” she said. “In only 48 hours, Peter was able to bring them to the exciting belief that music could change things. Listening to Bethany Yarrow start a melody and all of a sudden, this young man burst forth with spoken word poetry, everyone was blown away … it was an anthem in action.”

“I was so thrilled to be able to interview the kids,” she added. “We saw that the music of the anti-gun movement could inspire a cultural change, as it did in the Civil Rights Movement.”

After returning from Florida, Sheehy, who lives in New York City and East Hampton, had lots of material recorded on her phone, but wasn’t certain how she might use her journalistic skills to transform the recordings into something that could bring public attention to Yarrow’s project.

But then she found out that Stony Brook University was creating a two-semester Audio Podcast Fellows program, and in fall 2018, Sheehy was one of the students who enrolled in the inaugural class in New York City. This past fall, the program was expanded to include a second group of podcast fellows who meet at the Southampton campus.

While she enjoyed picking up the many new skills that are required in order to tell a story in audio form, Sheehy admits it was quite a learning curve after decades of working as a print journalist.

“It’s so astonishing to find how much longer it takes to create a podcast than write an article — and I had an assistant who came to some of the classes with me to do some of the technical stuff,” said Sheehy. “I still had to hire a woman to get the minutia of right amount of space to place between bits.”

By that, Sheehy means the breaths, pauses and silent bits of a podcast that make speech sound natural, even if it is heavily edited. But ultimately, she said, all the work was worth it, as the whole point of “Kid Rebels with Gail Sheehy” was to get people excited about Yarrow’s CD “Wake Up, America,” which grew from The Parkland Project and was just released on November 8.

In the course of producing her podcast, Sheehy learned some startling statistics about school violence — including the fact that since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, an estimated quarter million students have experienced gun violence. Sheehy notes that many survivors of school shootings struggle with PTSD and they often do so in isolation.

That’s why she finds Yarrow’s musical project so important as well as moving. Sheehy recalled that at one point during the Florida workshop, an adult songwriter in the room asked the students to come up with a title for a song. One young boy spoke up immediately and suggested “Song for the Silenced.”

“They immediately came up with lyrics and in no time had a song,” Sheehy recalled. “It was clearly like a hypodermic needle filled with music juice and they responded. Everything out of their mouths came straight from their hearts — out of fear, or sadness, or anger … or love for one another.”

In the end, Sheehy says she is hopeful about the new generation of activists she met in Florida — students who are willing to call out hypocrisy where they see it, rally their peers to call for action and eventually, vote for change.

“Two-hundred-and-twenty-five thousand students have been exposed to school violence, watching children murdered in front of their eyes,” said Sheehy. They’re so aware and not ready to listen to condolences.

“There is hope — the fact that Gen Z — these young post-millennials — are able to shame adults and are not afraid to … that’s completely new.”

“Kid Rebels with Gail Sheehy” can be found on Apple Podcasts or at gailsheehy.com.

The CD “Wake Up, America” was written and composed by the students of Parkland, Florida, with guidance of Peter Yarrow and songwriters and music producers affiliated with Operation Respect. Its title track is followed by compositions “Song for the Silenced,” “Transparent,” “Valentine’s Day,” “Change the Ref,” “We Got the Power,” “Armor Off,” “Watering Can Full of Tears,” “The Children Will Lead the Way” and “We Need.” The songs are available on all streaming and digital platforms, including Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple.

The Parkland Project singers are Lizzie Eaton, Payton Francis, Alissa Law, Sawyer Garrity, Anna Bayuk, Arianna Otero, Andrea Pena, Marisol Garrido, Kendal Rivera, Sofia Rothenberg, Aalayah Florence Yared, Michael Zeif and Sam Zeif.

You May Also Like:

A ‘Hidden Child’: Erika Hecht Reflects On World War II In New Memoir

On the edge of Sag Harbor Village, Erika Hecht lives in a modest home surrounded ... 22 Jun 2021 by Michelle Trauring

New Project Space Features Ceramics By Rebecca Manson

Fairfax Dorn, principal of Fairfax Dorn Projects (FDP), is currently presenting “An Impulsive Forage,” an exhibition highlighting new work by artist Rebecca Manson in collaboration with Josh Lilley, London, at The Living Room, a project space in East Hampton. The show runs through July 4. It marks Manson’s first U.S. solo exhibition and features ceramic sculptures made in her studio outside New York City. As a master of clay, Manson captures the vulnerabilities of nature. The sculptures on view express the relationship between beauty and decay. She is a graduate of the ceramics department of the Rhode Island School of ... by Staff Writer

G.E. Smith’s ‘Portraits’ Welcomes Telecaster Master Jim Weider

On July 5, G.E. Smith launches his fifth series of “Portraits,” this year for Guild ... by Staff Writer

Jessica Ambrose Gets Sirius

In early May, SiriusXM Radio announced that “Lunch on the Deck,” a weekly program hosted ... by Staff Writer

Market Art + Design Returns For 2021

Market Art + Design, the East End’s premier and longest-running art and design fair, has ... by Staff Writer

Southampton Arts Center Hosts Outdoor Talk With Carl Safina

Conserving nature and tapping into human creativity may not immediately appear to be connected. But ... by Staff Writer

A Trio Of Concerts Curated By Joel Ross For Duck Creek

The Arts Center at Duck Creek will present the first two concerts this weekend in ... by Staff Writer

‘Fish & Men’ Screening And Panel At SAC

As part of its exhibition “EARTH: Artists as Activists,” On Thursday, July 8, at 7:30 ... by Staff Writer

Nelson H. White Retrospective

On Saturday, June 26, the Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor opens a retrospective exhibition featuring ... by Staff Writer

Guild Hall Is Getting A Make-Over For Its 90th Birthday

Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton, has launched a $10 million capital campaign, in celebration of its 90th Anniversary (1931-2021), to bring the institution to the next level. As Guild Hall looks to the future, it has engaged the world’s most sought-after minds to match the physical footprint with the caliber of their artistry: Bran Ferren/Applied Minds, Peter Pennoyer Architects, Hollander Design | Landscape Architects, Ben Krupinski Builder, and Jon Maass and Pamela Torres as owner’s reps. At this point, Guild Hall has reached 50 percent of its goal thanks to the support of the Board ... by Staff Writer
logo

Welcome to our new website!

To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.

We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.

Start the Tour
Landscape view not supported
Send this to a friend