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the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

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Clement reflects on songwriting for local schools

Courtesy of Dawn Clement
With a degree in musical therapy, Dawn Clement has focused on writing children’s songs. Clement (left) has tried to surround her daughter Caroline Bell (right) with music throughout her life.

Bright futures and growing gardens are themes generations of kids remember as Midtown parent Dawn Clement shared her love of music by writing songs for Morningside Presbyterian Preschool (MPP) and Springdale Park Elementary School (SPARK). 

Clement grew up immersed in music, leading her to major in musical therapy while attending Florida State University. After graduating college, Clement moved to Atlanta and started teaching music at the Crème de la Crème preschool in Buckhead where she wrote her first school song. 

“One thing that was great about working with the kids was that you get immediate feedback,” Clement said. “If they don’t like something, they will let you know. They will be like, ‘This is boring,’ but if they like it, you can see them having fun. I think that really taught me what worked with younger kids.”

Music has always been an impactful part of Clement’s life, playing piano, guitar and the accordion. She grew up surrounded by instruments in her family with her mother singing with her sisters in a trio and her grandmother teaching piano lessons. 

“From a very young age, I was really interested in music,” Clement said. “I got my first little keyboard when I was 4 years old. I feel like from a very young age, I was always around singing and instruments. My cousins and I would all have talent shows for my grandparents in the summers [when] we would go visit them.”

Growing up in a musical environment, Clement wanted to create a similar experience for her daughters, 2020 alumna Caroline Bell and junior Meredith Bell. Caroline Bell views her mother as an inspiration and an influence to keep music in her life. 

“I know that it’s the case for my sister too, but music is such a big part of my life,” Caroline Bell said. “I’ve always loved singing. I’ve had the drive, but I’ve never really built up the courage to sing in front of an audience on my own. Seeing my sister do that is incredible and I’m so proud of her. I feel the same about my mom. I know she studied music therapy in college, so knowing that she has that background and not only does it for herself, but also to help others. I think that music and being surrounded by people that appreciate it is one of the most influential things.”

Along with the Crème de la Crème song, Clement wrote the MPP and SPARK songs. Caroline Bell was the first class of both MPP and SPARK, giving Clement the opportunity to write these songs and spread her love of music to her daughters’ schools. 

“When I was in the fifth grade, my music teacher was my favorite person on the planet,” Clement said. “There was the Gilchrist song for Gilchrist Elementary School, and to this day, I know it. Your brain holds on to song lyrics for so long. I’ll never forget that song for as long as I live. I thought, ‘I would really love for my girls to have that. I would really love for all of their friends and everybody who goes to their school to have that.’ I think it’s a really special thing. I was so lucky that MPP and SPARK were brand new, they didn’t have a song. I was like, ‘Gosh somebody’s got it write it, so I guess I will.’”

In the MPP song, a group of kids sing on the CD made for a school fundraiser with Clement, including Caroline Bell. Clement remembers moments when she overheard Caroline and Meredith Bell harmonizing together while growing up, reinforcing the influence Clement had on her daughters.

“My mom is such an angel,” Caroline Bell said. “My mom has always surrounded us with music. When she started writing her own songs for our schools, I honestly loved it. I thought that it was such a good contribution to the community on her part.”

Clement’s focus is children’s songs, striving to help make chores more enjoyable. When writing school songs, finding the perfect lyrics to match the school is Clement’s favorite part while writing songs. 

“The magic is when you have a melody that’s catchy and sticks in your head,” Clement said. “When you watch commercials and hear a jingle, immediately you’ll never forget it. Some people work with the melody first then they plug in the words, but I tend to have the words and then come up with the melody.”

Brianne Turgeon has taught at SPARK since its opening in 2009 when Clement was writing the school song. Turgeon said every day teaching the song to her students has been a joy with helpful music methods and an accurate reflection of the school.

“As soon as I heard the song I completely fell in love with it,” Turgeon said. “It was another one of those very fortunate events. I felt overwhelmed and very touched because the lyrics were perfect. I’ve taught this song for 14 years and I have never gotten tired of teaching it. We sing it every single day. It has lyrics like, ‘Plant your seed of knowledge and watch our garden grow,’ because it ties through all of the things that we want a beautiful school to be. Dawn was very kind and gratuitous to share this beautiful song with us.”

Clement’s songs continue to be sung by current and former students, creating a legacy generations will carry on past her daughter’s class. 

“Honesty, I think originally [writing the songs] was to scratch this itch that I had,” Clement said. “I’m so thankful and lucky that the music teachers taught the songs, the kids learned them and now hopefully when all the SPARK graduates are in their retirement homes one day they’ll all remember the SPARK song. It’s going to stick with them forever. That is just amazing to me, and I really never thought that it would stick like it did, but I’m so glad that it did.” 

Sarah Tomaka was MPP’s Preschool Director for six years during which Clement wrote the school’s song. Tomaka describes Clement as always willing to teach kids about music and instruments, creating a special song kids could have a connection with. 

“The pre-K teachers loved to have that end of the year thing where they taught the kids songs so they could perform for the parents,” Tomaka said. “I think it was an extra special song because they knew it was about their school. It wasn’t just any cute little kid song, it was a song about their own school and it meant something to them.”

Growing up with her mom creating these songs for her and her classmates to hold as special memories, Caroline Bell said she takes joy that the legacy of the school songs has outlasted her. 

“They still use her songs at the preschool,” Caroline Bell said. “It really just shows the impact that she had on all of this with this new generation. I remember specifically in elementary school, every morning after all the announcements in the morning, they would have us sing the song and it was so cute. To think that they still do that to this day is so pure. I love it, and I don’t think my mom gets enough credit for that. I hope she wakes up everyday like, ‘They’re singing my song right now.’”

Every student knowing the song is an impact Turgeon has noticed as a result of the song coming from a songwriter in the community. Turgeon said the song has helped her students build a stronger connection with music. 

“It is the best school song that has ever been written,” Turgeon said. “It came from the heart. It came from a person who cared about our community, helped us develop our community and set the culture of our school.”

Reflecting back on her time writing music for kids, Clement remembers the joy music has always brought her and she hopes it will continue to guide her while potentially branching out to write jingles or more songs. 

“It had to be a combination of always being drawn to my music classes and enjoying that the most when I was in school,” Clement said. “I was also in high school very involved with musicals. That was a huge part of my school experience. As a result, it’s a huge part of who I am. It’s funny, I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but whenever I sit down at the piano, I’m always glad that I did. I really love that I was exposed to that and learned instruments and how to play and sing. I think that’s something that continues to bring me joy and will continue to bring me joy for a very long time.”

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About the Contributor
Kate Durden
Kate Durden, Lifestyle Associate Managing Editor
Kate Durden is a junior and this is her third year writing for the Southerner. She enjoys volunteering at an animal shelter, attending 21st Century Leaders meetings, making films at Midtown's cinema club and hanging out with her friends.

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  • R

    Ruth MikowskiMay 23, 2024 at 10:18 am

    Dawn is a loving and giving daughter who has brought me so much joy. Her love for music and amazing talent are what has made me proud to be her Mom! This article has brought her the recognition she deserves. She is amazing to me and knowing her amazing song will live on is more than I can imagine.

  • M

    MICHELLE REASORMay 22, 2024 at 8:46 pm

    This is amazing! The love of music and those who create and share it is a huge part of what makes the world so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your talents!