Teacher woos students with music
July 14, 2004
Ashley Parker
Special to The Gazette

Brian Lewis/The Gazette

Fifth-grade teacher Leroy Hyson practices one of the children's songs he will perform next month at the City Hall Concert Pavilion.

Leroy Hyson's debut CD is a far cry from the go-go music he used to play, back when he went by the stage name "Lefty-L." It also differs from the church choir music he learned at his grandmother's side.

Now, with "Musical Fun with Mr. Hyson: Elementary School Blues," Hyson is trying his hand at children's music, a genre previously dominated by the likes of Raffi and the Wiggles.

It's not surprising that Hyson has found his calling with the elementary school blues. The 37-year-old Gaithersburg resident is, after all, a fifth-grade teacher at Flower Hill Elementary School with a penchant for the musical -- he plays the acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, harmonica and piano, and even lives on Harmony Hall Road.

"That's too much of a coincidence, right?" joked Tammy Hyson, Leroy's wife and vice president of Hyson Productions.

The only surprise is that it took Hyson until this past March to release his first CD, a 10-track album featuring everything from "My First Day of School" to "My Last Day of School," as well as the signature hit, "My Cat Jack."

Hyson said that although he'd been writing songs ever since he started working at Glen Haven Elementary School back in 1994, he needed the prompting of his uncle and his wife to copyright his work and compile a CD -- the ultimate goal.

"My wife had been telling me for a few years, 'Look, you have all this good music and you're keeping it at home and not sharing it with anyone,'" said Hyson, who also remembered words of encouragement from other family members.

"My uncle said, 'Make a date and I want the stuff done by that date,'" Hyson said. "He says, 'Look, you're writing songs about I won't quit. Just go and do it.'"

So Hyson took his own advice -- he does, in fact, have a song entitled "I Won't Quit" -- and recorded his first CD.

"A lot of the songs are written over the past years, but I redid all of them on this new machine," he said.

Now, Hyson is embarking on a series of free performances, with the hope of raising name recognition and sharing his music with the public. At 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 9, he'll take the stage at the City Hall Concert Pavilion as part of Gaithersburg's Kaleidoscope concert series, and said he's both nervous and excited about performing in front of his home community.

"I'm excited to share with the people of Gaithersburg because we've been here for about four years and I've always dreamed of performing onstage solo and I'm finally getting that opportunity to do it," Hyson said. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited and ready for the challenge."

Based on the enthusiastic reaction Hyson has received so far, he has no reason to be nervous.

"My kids primarily listen to gospel and children's music, so they really enjoy it," said Genea Washington, a teacher with Hyson at Flower Hill Elementary School, whose 3-year-old Christina and 13-year-old Draymond both enjoy Hyson's music. "Other than the fact that it's a friend of mine, I like lyrics, I like the fact that it has a positive message for the kids. It's very upbeat."

As a teacher, Washington also said she appreciates the way her students relate to Hyson's music, like the day he came to her second-grade class and sampled his CD during a writing workshop.

"It talks about things that have occurred in their life," she said. "The fact that they lost a tooth, or it's the last day of school."

Washington said "it's a pretty good CD" and her husband has already purchased five copies -- one for the house, one for the van, and the other three as gifts for friends who also have young children.

But despite the positive response he's received so far, Hyson said he's not making music for the money, and has no plans of quitting his day job.

"It's not really a monetary venture, but I think the product will sell itself," he said.

Just take the young fans at the school where he teaches. Hyson said he remembers a day this past June, when he was walking down the hall and heard a young boy murmuring some familiar words -- "I have some money in my pocket..."

"I looked and he was saying the words of the CD in his head," Hyson said. "I think that's exciting because these kids can be saying the words of the CD in their subconscious, saying positive things."

In a time when more and more children are listening to music that's "more for adults," Hyson said he enjoys using his songs to convey a positive message, or even for teaching his students a thing or two about math.

"I try to use the music whenever I can in my classroom," he said. "One of my songs called 'Composite' came out of a math lesson last year, when the kids had trouble remembering what kind of numbers composite numbers are."

Composite numbers, as Hyson's song states several times, "have more than two factors."

"They were able to learn what the difference was between composite and prime numbers," said Hyson, recalling one of his favorite stories: A student came up to him and said that during a math test, she started to mix up her composite numbers, but then started singing the words to his song and got the answer right.

"That made me real happy," he said.

And it should -- Hyson was just combining his passions and, as he said himself, "The children's music came because I've always had a love of kids."

Now they, too, have a love for his music.