Friday, September 28, 2012

When We Raise Our Voices Together

I've written before about my family's chagrin at the notion of my singing in public. And if you've been following this blog for a long, long time you'll know my epic and inspiring tale of moving from shame to shameless in my willingness to display my poor musical abilities before audiences both willing and otherwise.

Lest you think I'm merely being self-deprecating, Jack's dad Karl (a former acapella jazz singer) once responded to my apology to him for offending his ears by saying, "You're not exactly a bad singer, but you do tend to change keys at the beginning of each line, which makes it kind hard to sing along. Once you've chosen a key, however, you're not so bad."

Music is important to all of us and there are very few people who don't have a collection of recorded music or at least a favorite music radio station. If you ask adult people what they like about their music, most shrug and say something like, "It makes me feel good," or "It takes me back," or "It feeds my soul." I have a lot of friends who will tell you it's all about how it fills their body, making them want to dance. Some love making their own music. They have a piano or guitar at home which they say relaxes or inspires them.

For most of us, however, the music we we make or enjoy on a day-to-day basis is something we do alone, like singing along to the radio, or perhaps with family members (less critical ones than mine) and that's a beautiful thing. But the luckiest ones, to my mind, are those of us who get to regularly raise our voices with those of others, be it in praise of god, as a member of a barbershop quartet, or in the company of preschoolers.

I'm sure there are all kinds of academic-y explanations for what singing together does for people, but for me it's about creating a moment of unity or oneness with my fellow humans. When our voices rise together in song, be it a Top 40 ditty or a funeral dirge, we do so as a single entity, every voice an equal part of a the greater whole. Every great community needs its songs of unity, be they anthems, fight songs, or the hymns of praise. There was a time when corporations had company songs. 

All preschool teachers sing with their children, and if they don't they should. Nothing draws a class together better than singing.

With the 2-year-olds it's all about singing the same songs over and over. I've never done the math, but I doubt we have more than two dozen songs in our repertoire, cycling through the same tunes again and again with little variation. Two-year-olds are all about the greatest hits, often complaining if I skip their favorite. It's still early in the school year, but I know it won't be long before we'll be singing If You're Happy And You Know It loudly, boldly, and, indeed, off-key. Yes, I use the felt board or photographs portraying simple "happy," "sad," "angry," and other expressions to help these children begin to identify some of the more obvious emotional cues that they'll need for successfully navigating their expanding social world. And yes, each time we sing, "clap your hands," or "stomp your feet," we're giving them practice in the fine art of following. But the real significance of the song is that we're making that song together.

Pirate is one of the "basic" emotions at Woodland Park!

With the 3-5 and 5's classes we also cycle through our larger core collection songs, but as is appropriate for these older children, the songs become more elastic, stretching and bending to suit their growing comfort level and need for variety. Many of the songs we learned as 2-year-olds now have pauses during which the children raise their hands to suggest their own verses or variations; we've moved from merely singing together, to actually composing new songs based upon the old, right on the spot, like a preschool jam session. Sometimes we even make up brand new songs of our own, like the time we were hiking back from the bus stop and Marcus suggested that we "Stomp, stomp, stomp," "skip, skip, skip," and "hop, hop, hop." It helps that we all by now know a collection of simple tunes to which we can insert new words.

I'm the most unlikely song leader in the world, and I love it. Wanna sing along? 

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