These fifth graders tell you what the future will be like – in song

LA Master Chorale teaching artist Alice Kirwan Murray conducts a
LA Master Chorale teaching artist Alice Kirwan Murray conducts a "Voices Within" dress rehearsal at Huntington Park Elementary.
Carla Javier/KPCC

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Fifth graders from Huntington Park Elementary have spent the past few weeks imagining the future of health, artificial intelligence, communication, homes and food, travel, and the environment – then working in small groups to write songs about those possible futures. 

It's all part of a program offered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale called Voices Within.

But, at a recent dress rehearsal for a performance of those songs, before the students sing a single note, they first review the rules of collaboration that they've practiced over the past few weeks: treat everyone like they're your best friend, listen actively, speak your ideas clearly and strongly, be brave, and say yes.

Pedro Sainz, 10, said working as a team was the most important part.

"Without a team, we'll be struggling for a long time," he explained. "But with a team, it actually makes it a lot quicker."

At first, he said, he would argue with the other students in his group. But, working together, they were able to create a better song.

"I never knew the song would sound this good, so I started to agree with them," he said. "Because the golden rule of music is saying yes."

He said he wants to go to college and become a music teacher so he can teach students to work together to write songs, just like the teaching artists who came to his school did.

Teaching artist Doug Cooney said even if the students don't grow up to become musicians, they still learn valuable lessons through participating.

"Being able to collaborate with other people is going to improve their academic performance, and it creates a life skill that will be valuable in their work lives and in their professional lives," he explained.

When the students perform their six songs, professional singers from the Los Angeles Master Chorale will join them.

Teaching artist Alice Kirwan Murray, who will be the conductor, said even after the songwriting process, the students still have to collaborate to have a successful performance.

"All of the 'he wrote, she wrote, I wrote' stuff is gone," she said. "It's now all of us singing the same words together."

Here's an excerpt from Pedro's group's song, "Whatever You Plant." It's about what his group thinks the future of the environment might be like:

From the bubble I live in

I look out the window

Dirty clouds fill the sky

Outside, if you throw a lighter to the grass, it will burn

There will be no place to lie down

And the air will smell like smoke

Another song, called "Leave the Past Behind," is about the future of artificial intelligence:

The future is mind-blowing

The rich become poor and the poor become rich

Robots in control, and robots out of control

Future, come get me, and leave the past behind!

The group assigned the future of health and medicine wrote "Make Your Body Last":

I was in my future forever

Cancer is a thing of the past

With robots for doctors

They make your body better

They make your body last