Music video a tribute to life in Iowa County
A few summers ago, Kyle Walsh, the principal of Pecatonica Elementary School in Hollandale, first heard the song “Pecatonica” on his drive to work. He was immediately struck by the connection between the song and his school.
The song by Point 5, an Americana-style string band from Mineral Point, celebrates the nearly 200-mile tributary of the Rock River, which runs through southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois and goes through Iowa County, home to Pecatonica Elementary, about 40 miles southwest of Madison.
At the time, American Family Insurance was using the song in some radio ads in an eight-state area.
The song stuck in Walsh’s head, and then last year, while talking to his mentor, Marc Kornblatt, with whom he did his student teaching at Lincoln Elementary School in Madison, the two hatched a plan to collaborate on a music video.
That nearly 5-minute video, “Pecatonica,” is scheduled to debut Friday at the school’s annual spring concert. Walsh, 28, and Kornblatt, 63, also an independent filmmaker, have also posted it on YouTube (go.madison.com/pecatonica) and plan to submit it to film festivals.
“I feel like it’s a really great representation of life in a rural community, in a rural school,” said Walsh, who lives in Verona and commutes to Hollandale.
The video starts with shots of the river and features the six-member band singing in front of a classroom whiteboard containing lyrics to the song. Clips of silos, cows and the school follow. The video shows the school’s second-grade students as they work on drawings of barns and cows. Then the children sing the song’s chorus. It ends with the students taking a field trip to a farm on the Pecatonica River.
This is Walsh’s third year at Pecatonica Elementary School. He grew up in La Crosse, lived in Madison, and has worked in Madison and Verona. So, coming to a rural school that sits next to a dairy farm took some getting used to, he said.
Kornblatt, who works as a “one-man band,” doing all of his own camera work and editing, taught for many years at Lincoln Elementary on Madison’s South Side, and is back at the school working part time with third-graders as a music teacher. He calls Lincoln one of the most diverse schools in the state. “It’s an amazing place,” he said.
He made an 83-minute documentary about his last year of teaching called “What I Did in Fifth Grade,” which has played around the country.
Pecatonica Elementary is the inverse of Lincoln in terms of the racial and ethnic makeup of its student body, Kornblatt said. “That’s one of the reasons I was pulled in.”
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He was also attracted to the project because of his relationship with Walsh, who has kept in touch with Kornblatt since leaving his classroom. They’ve collaborated on six films plus a fictional but fact-based mockumentary that played at a couple of film festivals about how Walsh and his wife met and courted.
Kornblatt also made a short film with Walsh about how the countryside isn’t in the news, but people there are still living lives of value. “There isn’t this funding and media attention in rural America, which is probably one of the reasons why things changed during this last election,” he said.
Kornblatt grew up in New Jersey, the son of a veterinarian, so he spent some time during his childhood going to farms and has an appreciation for rural Wisconsin, its beauty, and the children who live there.
“It doesn’t matter the age, the color, the size of the child,” Kornblatt said. “The children are not the issue. The children were wonderful there. If you look at the film, they were just fun.”
Children join in
Aaron Dunn, a family practice physician who leads Point 5 with his wife, Monica Dunn, also enjoyed working with the second-graders.
“It was awesome,” he said. They showed up in the school’s music room, decorated the dry erase board, and played “Pecatonica” in front of it for Kornblatt. Then they brought the children in.
“We started playing the song for them to warm them up a little bit, and as soon as we hit the chorus, they all started singing with us because they had rehearsed it.”
The couple began playing music publicly in 2006 with an early configuration of Point 5. The band now includes Andy Hatch, an artisan cheesemaker and co-owner of Uplands Cheese Company, near Dodgeville; Carole Spelic, assistant director at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in Mineral Point; Meghan Dudle, who directs traditional arts programming at Folklore Village; and Paul Biere, a retired physician. Monica Dunn runs a dance and yoga studio.
The Dunns live in Mineral Point and the rest of the band members also live in Iowa County. Point 5 has played in Madison only once, Dunn said, at a cheese event at Monona Terrace. He said the band doesn’t have any real connections with Madison venues.
Point 5 has a couple of YouTube videos accessible on its website, but it hadn’t produced any music videos.
“Any little moment that makes us feel like we’re little music stars is a fun time,” Dunn said. “It’s a treat for us, certainly.”