The I’ll Fly Away Foundation used the power of songwriting to celebrate its 10th anniversary
Betsy Brumley will never forget the first songwriting program. It was for the McDonald County School System in Missouri. Focused on grade three classes with students representing 13 different languages, as the kids began to write songs together, they started to connect, to communicate, despite language barriers – some even keeping that connection well beyond. beyond the third year.
“While we were writing the songs, it really broke those barriers, and the walls came down,” Brumley says of the program with his I’ll Fly Away foundation. “Suddenly, these children were communicating in the same language: the song. They wrote songs and practiced them together on the playground. The teachers told us that these children never played together and now they did, thanks to this understanding of songs.
Founded in 2011, with her husband Kevin Bernier, the I’ll Fly Away Foundation uses songwriting to engage and connect children, both interpersonal and through education. Eventually, the couple moved songwriting programs to more rural and downtown schools, and to date have worked with over 6,500 children, and written 300 songs, across the United States.
I’ll Fly Away was inspired by the name itself, a song written by his grandfather Albert E. Brumley and released in 1932. What started out as a little “ditty” as senior Brumley would call it, became one of the most covered tracks — Johnny Cash, Kanye West and Alan Jackson took on the song, and Allison Kraus and Gillian Welch even recorded their version for the film. Oh brother where are you—And Brumley later established his own music publishing company in 1944.
“Grandpa was a genius,” says Brumley. “He used to say, ‘If you never get too far away from people, you’ll never be too far from the mainstream,’ so he always wrote songs that the general public could relate to, and a good one. song like ‘I’ll Fly Away’ is simply part of the American fabric and part of the culture. “
Bernier adds: “’I’ll Fly Away’, as far as the foundation goes, is an example of a song that was written for one purpose, being more of a Christian gospel type song, but if you look at the people who l ‘have covered, from Puff Daddy [“I’ll Fly Away” melody used in Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You”] at the Boston Pops Orchestra, it has spanned several genres. “
When Brumley and her husband stumbled upon his plan to create a foundation focused on helping children through songwriting, a vision he had never seen before he passed away in 1977. Find his papers on the foundation was a sign for Brumley, who is dyslexic and says writing helped her communicate and learn when she was younger, which I Fly Away incorporates into the programs, often mixing songwriting with math and d other learning elements.
“I grew up writing songs, telling stories and seeing how music can connect people,” says Brumley. “If you’ve ever written a story, or if you’ve written a song with someone else, it’s such a personal thing to share that time, your thoughts, and your stories with someone other than yourself. You grow and start to throw out these crazy ideas – and sometimes 99% of them don’t work – but you also start to get more vulnerable, and I’ve seen that happen with all of our kids.
Expanding the foundation’s reach internationally, I’ll Fly Away has partnered with Batley Grammar School in Yorkshire, England to pilot a program connecting nearly a dozen children aged 13 to 15 to USA with songwriting partner in UK. 1612, music programs and have remained an integral part of the institute and regional education system, under the direction of Kath Davies, who coordinates the I’ll Fly Away songwriting camp in England.
Working with the Mississippi Grammy Museum to create a virtual songwriting platform, the songwriting program will begin in June and run over a five-week period, meeting every Tuesday via Zoom, and that’s something Brumley and Davies, who met over five years ago. at a Music Cities convention in Lafayette, Louisiana, Hope lays the foundation for a program that can continue, and around the world.
“Music is a part of everyone’s life whether you like it or not,” Davies says. “It’s all around us, whether it’s television or radio, or something bigger than that. The idea of connecting with someone, another young person who lives in the United States is exciting. You could be in a very small village surrounded by hills and sheep, but have a fabulous relationship and share similar feelings or frustrations with someone from Mississippi. If we can start those connections and bridges, we could just keep developing it, and it can reach its full potential. “
For Davies, who heads cultural development for Kirklees Council, the district that includes Batley, the region’s school system is strongly rooted in a larger regional music program, which will shift in 2023.
“It’s really about helping children and young people know that they are part of this big world,” says Davies. “There is enormous potential that could be achieved through music and children can be empowered to create their own song and music and unleash their aspirations and potential… and dream big.
Today, her grandfather’s vision still keeps Betsy rooted in the foundation. Thinking about that first songwriting program, it still speaks to the greatest aspiration for I’ll Fly Away. Some of these students entered high school, many retaining a connection to those early writing sessions.
“It really changed the whole dynamic of the school, because these kids don’t argue, there is less fighting and there is less racial hatred between them,” Brumley says. “If we can do that in a school, think if we can do it nationally, then internationally.”
Brumley admits that she tends to live in a “fantasy world”, but she believes in a world where music can heal, connect and bridge the gaps. “I believe anything can be good,” she said, “and you should look at the good in everything.”
She adds, “These young people are the next generation of leaders. If we can get them to write songs together and build those friendships through music, think about how good the world is in 15, 20, 30 years. We are all going to know each other – all business leaders, politicians, leaders in our world will know each other and they will be united by a song they wrote when they were 12 or 13 years old.
The magic of I’ll Fly Away is that the songs created continue to touch those who created them far beyond the writing session, geographic distance, and language differences.
“Every little thing matters,” Brumley says. “These songs touch people, because that’s music, it touches people, so it helps me remember that. What I do has nothing to do with me. It’s about my ability to show people that they can use music to make things better and to move the world forward for good. “