“He loves music!” As a children’s musician, that’s a common refrain I hear from parents. It’s just a fact: most kids’ happiness meter jumps several notches when the singing and dancing starts.
I’ve written a fair bit about the connections between music instruction and early literacy skill development as well as achievement in other academic areas. But let’s take time out to praise music-making just because … it’s awesome!
I just got back from my tenth annual trip to the fall conference of The Children’s Music Network. This network of children’s musicians, teachers and other music lovers exists to support people who offer great music to children and families. Its conferences include workshops, business development support, mentoring and inspiring keynotes.
But what I love most about going to a CMN conference is singing. Without prompting, songs at a CMN gathering often break into perfect eight-part harmony.
Upbeat songs lead to wild, free-form dancing. Slow, meaningful songs can bring tears. These conferences offer professional development, but mainly they feed our hearts and souls. We leave with the happiness meter in the stratosphere.
At this year’s conference, I got to spend time with Andrea Green, who’s written many musicals for children and teens. She led a workshop on how performing in musicals can transform children’s lives. We watched a moving documentary about how performances of one of her musicals brought together kids with cerebral palsy with those at a more typical school. You can find out more at this link: http://www.ontheothersideofthefence.com/ It’s clear that lives changed as a result of those performances.
I loved when Andrea led a song with Luke Seston at her side at the piano. Luke has cerebral palsy; he also has one of the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. Seeing his joyful response to music, I’m reminded of the kids I worked with from the Condon School in South Boston, who have CP and other significant disabilities. Music is one of the main ways to send their happiness meters into orbit. My work also brought them together with the students in other classrooms. As was the case with Andrea’s musical, kids with differing abilities found connections through songs.
I could go on and on with stories about my experiences at the Condon. Just walking into the place, I’d suddenly run into a dozen smiling kids, asking if I’d be in their class that day. This year, I’ve moved on, to a music teaching position at the KIPP Academy elementary school in Lynn, MA. One of the highlights of our week is every Friday’s “Songfest.” The whole school gets together for singing and dancing.
It brings back one of my earliest memories of school. In first and second grade, I attended Crestline School in Birmingham, AL. Every Friday, there was an all-school assembly where one of the classes would perform a play. The assembly always began with singing. The music teacher, Amos Hudson, was especially into military hymns. To this day, I can belt out “From the Halls of Montezuma,” “Anchors Aweigh” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” thanks to Mr. Hudson.
In my own music practice, I tend toward more peaceful favorites such as “This Little Light of Mine” or “Fanga Alafia.” I’m also partial to songs I learned through CMN, such as Ruth Pelham’s “All a Family Under One Sky,” or the ever-popular “Rockin’ in the Rabbit Hole,” penned by Guitar Bob Messano. And of course, I love writing songs myself, from the “Antelope Dance” to “Nihao, Jambo, Hola.” It’s all good – kids spring into joy on nearly all of them.
During one of the most difficult times in my adult life, I had a chance to sing with the Mystic Chorale for several seasons. The rehearsals of this 200-voice chorus took place in the beautiful, reverberating sanctuary of a local UU church. Every week, the resonating harmonies took me away from the stress and pain of everyday life and into a more uplifting dimension.
So songs make connections between people while replenishing the soul. That’s why everybody should sing. Not just kids.