The Power of Song

Luke Seston joins Andrea Green in playing some upbeat musical numbers.

Luke Seston joins Andrea Green in playing some upbeat musical numbers.

“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.

Uncle Ruthie, Sarah Pirtle, Suni Paz and Ruth Pelham lead a song at the CMN conference. All have been honored with CMN's Magic Penny Award for lifetime achievement in children's music.

Uncle Ruthie, Sarah Pirtle, Suni Paz and Ruth Pelham lead a song at the CMN conference. All have been honored with CMN’s Magic Penny Award for lifetime achievement in children’s music.

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.

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11 Responses to The Power of Song

  1. Joanie Calem says:

    Yes to all of the above!

  2. Stacey Peasley says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Liz! Loved reading this!

  3. Beautiful post, Liz, capturing the essence of CMN and it’s overriding message–singing expresses the best part of our humanity, bringing us together in a common language. So let’s keep singing and passing it on!

  4. Beautiful post, Liz, capturing the essence of CMN. Singing is at the core of our humanity, creating a common language and bringing us into community. So let’s keep singing and pass it on”

  5. Patricia Shih says:

    Liz! I had a teacher in 5th and 6th grades (same teacher; it was a combined-grade class) who would also take time out of our regular school day to gather us around the room’s piano to sing military songs! “Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder” and some of the same ones you sang with your teacher. He had been in the air force, and was a very good piano player. ”

    This same teacher had the whole class involved in learning, starring in and producing a filmed musical, “How the West Was Won.” That experience taught us history, music, theatre, working together towards a goal, and so much more.

    I would give a lot to see that footage today. Mr. Kubota (Japanese gentleman) was one of the very best teachers I ever had in my life, partly because he injected music into our daily lives. More proof of the power of music in a child’s life.

  6. Jane Arsham says:

    Love this post, Liz and to learn more about the importance of all music in your life from the earliest days. Here’s to CMN and the work that its members do!

  7. Liz, this is a terrific blog. The last line is an important quote and concept.

  8. Jenny Murphy says:

    My first CMN experience this past weekend brought me back to my own childhood as well, and reminded me of how uninhibited I was about singing out loud anywhere. What a rich experience! Thank you for posting!

  9. Ellen Allard says:

    Dear Liz,

    What a beautiful post and tribute to our just-finished Children’s Music Network conference. I agree with everything you said. I came way feeling so full of love and hope, despite all the craziness going on in the world right now. I was particularly moved by watching (and thoroughly enjoying) Andrea and Luke play the piano together. First, he has an extraordinary ear, always playing just what was needed. Second, Andrea treated him like an equal. It was beautiful to witness.

    I also returned home more determined than ever to find a venue in which I can volunteer my time with children who have challenges. Yes, music is powerful and we are so fortunate to be able to share this gift with others.

    Love, Ellen

  10. Carol Passovoy says:

    Thanks so much for sharing such marvelous tidbits from the conference and from your wealth of experience.

  11. Amy Conley says:

    Thank you, Liz, for putting it so beautifully! Hope to see you soon and hear about your latest adventures!

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