Michael Moshan and David Mendelsohn are not the first musicians to write songs about heartbreak, but they're probably the first to write songs about heartbreak using 20 SAT vocabulary words.
"I was engaged, and my engagement was breaking up," Moshan recalled. "I was a total wreck, and somehow, in writing a woe-is-me love ballad, I used SAT vocabulary words as part of it."
Moshan, along with his friend Mendelsohn, went on to create Rock the SAT, a collection of 13 pop songs. Each has about 20 words from the verbal section of the SAT exam, all in context, sprinkled into the lyrics.
"Silence, Reticence," for example, includes the following verse: "Silence, reticence/ Be taciturn/ Strive to be laconic to the point/ Where you don't speak/ You and me communicate/ Strictly by telepathy/ Don't speak."
"The idea is that if a student listens to a song, they can almost effortlessly not only memorize the vocabulary in context but also what the [words] mean because we've figured out catchy ways to define [them]," Moshan said.
Rock the SAT is only the latest of many musical collaborations between Moshan and Mendelsohn, who've been in bands together since high school. "We go back to when we were both horrendous musicians, just butchering cover songs," Moshan said.
It wasn't until after they graduated college and refined their music skills that the duo's songs developed a more complex vocabulary. "Dave and I were in a band in New York together, and I took him out for a drink after rehearsal and said, 'What do you think about this idea?' " Moshan recalled. "And he came back the next day and said, 'I wrote a tune called "Coalesce." ' "
From there, Rock the SAT was born. The only concern then was staying away from the usual cheesiness that goes along with "fun" ways to study for a test. "We really wanted this to be different from the lame, boring stuff that dominates the SAT-prep industry," Moshan said.
So they decided to stick to what they knew. "Rock is our strength," Moshan said. "We wanted to write rock songs that were catchy and also kind of intense and had a little edge to them."
Their relationship struggles added sincerity to the songs. "Dave's love life was a total disgrace, and he was writing Rock the SAT songs too," Moshan said. "So we didn't even really try, but I think the tunes became authentic because we were both kind of miserable. It kind of worked."
The album, available at RocktheSAT.com, also comes with a "hysterical, funny and weird" study guide the duo penned with English professor and longtime friend Michael Shapiro. The book is packed with funny and out-there sentences that use vocabulary words in action. "That became its own challenge, how to goof off and also be educational," Moshan said. "We would be on Instant Messenger chatting and writing the book together and making fun of each other."
Since the album was released last year, Rock the SAT has been featured on National Public Radio and in publications like The New York Times.
"When we did this, we had no idea whether anyone would hear one single note of it," Moshan said. "We thought the only ones who would hear this would be our buddies, so the fact that there are teachers and administrators and students and parents getting excited about it is astonishing."