Jim Papoulis composes songs with help from the Brookline schools



The choruses of all the Brookline Public Schools perform "Let Us Rise As a People." The song was composed by Brookline parent Jim Papoulis with input from students.

Jackie Perelman, Arts Writing Editor

Working with Beyonce, Snoop Dogg and Aretha Franklin, as well as the United Nations, are only part of world renowned composer and conductor Jim Papoulis’s lengthy resume. Papoulis founded the Foundation for Small Voices in 2000 with the goal of bringing music to underprivileged communities.

Papoulis has been working with all of the Brookline schools, creating music in the hopes of sending a message of unity and acceptance through his work.

According to Performing Arts Curriculum Coordinator Kenny Kozol, the Brookline Education Foundation (BEF) celebrated their 35th anniversary by awarding a grant to the department. Kozol met with the other teachers in his department, and elementary teacher Meredith Huntley from Heath School suggested inviting Papoulis to write a song. Kozol then met with the BEF to discuss the idea.

“At that meeting, we started to flesh out the idea,” Kozol said. “We could have him write a song, but we could make that much bigger where he meets with students and works with students, and meets with teachers and works with teachers and does these songwriting workshops.”

Papoulis works with middle schoolers at Devotion to compose “Let Us Rise As a People.” He was invited with a grant from the BEF.

The first part of the project was to write one song with the middle and high school students. Papoulis went to each one of the middle schools and held an assembly with all of the students. Papoulis asked the students what they would like to say through the music to people their age and to the adult generation.

“And the idea ‘let us rise as a people’ came up because I think that division is a lot of what’s going on right now,” Papoulis said.

After doing a few rhythmic exercises with the middle schoolers, Papoulis asked them about what was important to them. Papoulis also met with the Concert Choir and Camerata at the high school, who were able to give feedback on the music and the notes as well as on the song’s theme.

According to Junior Ranna Shahbazi, the experience was quite productive.

“A lot of kids were saying something uplifting,” Shahbazi said. “He would play some things and sing out to us what he had and we would tell him if we thought it was the right track, and we would give him input on what we thought and expanded upon those ideas.”

Chorus teacher Michael Driscoll noted that the process was much more performer-involved than usual.

“I thought it was really interesting for everyone to see the process and to see how a composer creates a piece,” Driscoll said. “This was more interactive in how the music was created.”

On Jan. 9 and 10, the song “Let Us Rise As a People” written by Jim Papoulis and the middle and high school students was performed by all of the Brookline choruses during the All-Town Chorus Festival.

Next, Papoulis will go back to the schools and write a song for each grade, with input from the students, similar to how the first song was written. The final product will be a song book called “The Voices of Brookline”.

For Kozol, the partnership is a good opportunity to expand the community’s repertoire.

“I think that a part of the goal is that we want this music that’s going to be created to become part of our regular repertoire in the performing arts curriculum,” Kozol said. “To have it clear that while this was written by Jim Papoulis, it was also written by students of the 2017-2018 school year.”

Papoulis added that all of his music, such as “Let Us Rise as a People,” is written from the vantage point of the singer instead of the composer.

“I ask these kids what do you think is wrong with the world,” Papoulis said. “The overwhelming response is we need to accept everybody for who they are, and we need to stop trying to convince everyone else of our own beliefs.”

According to Papoulis, he works with about nine thousand singers each year. He said that his music is all about social justice and being accepting of everyone.

“That’s just my entire world,” Papoulis said. “I think that listening to the voices of the new generation is what life should be and it’s basically my life commitment.”