Ohio City Writers: Educating Youth With Cleveland Rock and Roll

 By Nikki Delamotte

Frank Lewis knows that, like all good writing, the devil’s in the details: Run DMC’s blue and black Adidas are to chill, the yellow and green pairs are for when it’s time to get ill. The classic My Adidas remains a mainstay of Lewis’ curriculum, an endearingly down-to-earth introduction to the art of songwriting for the developing ears of his Ohio City Writers students.

 “Run DMC had an entire song dedicated to their Adidas. And it’s a really great song,” says Lewis. “There are endless examples of utterly trivial topics that show virtually anything can be made into a song. I want to teach kids songwriting is something that anyone can try.”

Inspired by 826 Valencia– Lewis created the youth writing program after teaching his son’s class about superheroes. He has continuously triumphed non-traditional ways of engaging the always overabundant, but often inhibited creativity of children. True to Ohio City Writers’ mission of community building, Lewis is piloting a new project to connect kids with one of Cleveland’s most important resources, local music. You may already be familiar with his occasional adult writing workshops, including the notorious Write to Assemble speaker panels at Happy Dog.

His next move  is to host a series of free songwriting workshops where kids collaborate to write a song during each session. But here’s the angle, the workshops will be led by Cleveland musicians. Ultimately, the goal is to have the songs brought to life by being recorded and played by local bands. “When it comes to music,” he explains, “the fact is all kids love at least some kind. To them it may just be music but it’s a way we can get we get them interested in writing.”

 “All types of writing can build invaluable skills in kids. I believe if you can express yourself clearly in a poem, short story, or song, you can express yourself in a business plan, political memo, or speech.”

While Lewis says there has been interest generated by bands throughout the city, especially through the help of friend Ron Kretsch, guitarist of Murderedman and The Banging Fragiles, Ohio City Writers is still looking for artists who want to be a part of the project. Next month, the songwriting workshop series for kids in grades five through nine kicks off with a class led by Herzog’s singer/guitarist Nick Tolar and lyricist Tony Vorell. The two originally connected with Lewis when Vorell agreed to be a panelist on a Write to Assemble panel on songwriting. “I had a fun, goofy time at Happy Dog and afterwards we were talking about his education program,” says Vorell. “He told me he wanted to do workshops for kids and I told him the only thing I know is songwriting.”

Photo Credit: Suzanne Price

Vorell explains the workshop will teach kids the basic A-A-B blues structure, rhyming, and measure while Tolar may explore the basics of blues progression. Vorell sites the compilations published by the same Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia program that Ohio City Writers is based on, Vorell says, “When you see the compilations, you know some of these kids are going to be great authors. There’s no reason we can’t do it. We’re not a school program that’s boring; it’s something for kids who just want to write.”

Ohio City Writers continue to seek bands and artists to participate in their songwriting program for kids. If interested, contact Frank Lewis at ohiocitywriters[at]

Register for the August 18th songwriting workshop with Herzog here.
Saturday, August 18, 1-3 p.m.
For students entering grades 5-9
Ohio City Writers
3208 Lorain Ave., Cleveland




Nikki Delamotte

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