Music Makes the Moment

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I live a life of music. I’m surrounded by it. In my role as Editor of Minds on Music, I regularly write and read articles about it. I conduct several choirs here in the Pittsburgh area, both at my University and in the city. I travel the country working with groups as a guest conductor with people from 12 to 90. I compose. I sing. Yes, I live a life of music, and I am constantly in awe of music’s power to impact my life and the lives of people around me. 

We mark the moments of our lives with music, from the simple to the most important. 


 

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Music makes the moment
First Dance!

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The Beginnings

How many of us have planned the music to be played when our kids were born? I know several couples who brought specific albums and individual songs with them when the time arrived. For Jane (my wife) and me, we had the music of Bach playing in the background.

Think about the beginning of your current relationship…do you have a song that is “your song” that came to be during the opening acts of your time together? What about your wedding? You probably took time to pick all the music, making sure it was meaningful for both of you. Jane and I made sure our favorite hymn was included in our wedding service. We are both professional church musicians. Whenever that hymn finds its way into a service, we look at each other and smile.

What song did you dance your first dance to? I bet you remember that moment each time you hear it. Imagine that event…without music.

We start sporting events with the National Anthem. The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics will be wall to wall music.

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The Middles

As we travel through life, music surrounds all of us, just not those of us that work in musical fields. Remember that last long trip you took? You had music playing on the radio or on your phone, didn’t you? How boring would that long drive have been if you had no tunes playing? We have a soundtrack for our lives constantly playing.

Imagine a birthday party without the song (even if it’s a bit out of tune!) or a trip to the ballpark without Take Me Out to the Ball Game at the seventh inning stretch. Did you sing songs to your kids in the car or maybe a lullaby at bedtime? We did.

Remember this classic? A dad singing with his daughter because she thought the fireworks were still happening and couldn’t get to sleep.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpu0TIXzI1w”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Music fills the silences of our lives with beauty, with energy, with reaches deep within us, touching our hearts and minds in a way no other art form can.

Imagine a graduation ceremony without Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance New Year’s Eve without Auld Lange Syne! These important events would just not be the same without music. Take a look at this video which removes John Williams’s score from the throne room scene in the original Star Wars movie. It’s comical in its awkwardness.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj-GZJhfBmI”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Ends

Music soothes us. It calms the nerves and can be a balm to a soul in distress. One of the most influential musicians in my life was Carl Crosier. He was cantor of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. I learned so much from him while living in Hawai’i. He passed almost four years ago. While he was in hospice care, his wife, Kathy, made sure he was surrounded by music. When the end was approaching, no one was sure if he was actually hearing his beloved Bach. But Carl let everyone know he was moved by the master’s music.

At that point, we didn’t know he could hear any of the music. But after I played this next selection for him, Carl’s sister said to me, “He must know that piece!” It was the Dona nobis pacem from Bach’s B-Minor Mass! – the last piece, Carl conducted in concert. After the triumphant conclusion of the piece, Carl was visibly moved and we saw tears come down from his eyes.

Kathy Crosier/Another Year of Insanity

When the great Italian composer of opera, Giuseppe Verdi passed away, crowds gathered in the streets. They wanted to say goodbye to the master of the art form who brought the new country (yes, Italy as we know it today, was unified in 1861) with music. As the story goes, the crowd spontaneously began singing “Va pensiero” from the street in honor of Signor Verdi. If you don’t know the work, also know as “The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves,” take a listen. It’s still known as the unofficial national anthem of Italy. Here’s the text translation:

Go, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!

Greet the banks of the Jordan
and Zion’s toppled towers…
Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost!
Oh, remembrance, so dear and so fatal!

Golden harp of the prophetic seers,
why dost thou hang mute upon the willow?
Rekindle our bosom’s memories,
and speak to us of times gone by!

Either, akin to the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or let the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D2BrV4Yvi0″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Yes, music marks the moments of our lives. We can’t escape it, nor would we want to. Its absence would be unbearable. So, for something so important, something so impactful on the day to day lives of every person on earth, we should make the time for music. We should expose our kids to music and musical activities (like Kindermusik classes!) from birth. We should support its presence in school curricula.

I can’t say it enough, friends: music is magic.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Cello in the Trenches

Cello in the trenches

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I’ve talked about the unlikely places that music has made an appearance – in concentration camps, in the fields of pre-Civil War plantations, and prisoner of war camps. We, as a species, always find a way to make music. Soldiers at the front during World War I were no different. In the mud and the muck of front line trenches, doughboys made music. They sang and played, and when they didn’t have actual instruments available to them, they made them out of whatever materials they could get their hands on.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Some soldiers brought their own instruments along with them when possible. Occasionally, they would locate instruments locally and make music with them. Singing was a big part of life at the front; songs of the day and original tunes would have made appearances in the trenches and in local watering holes.

Soldiers moving a piano during World War I - 1916 - from the Archive of the Bibliothèque de Documentation internationale contemporaine, Paris.
Soldiers moving a piano during World War I – 1916 – from the Archive of
the Bibliothèque de Documentation internationale contemporaine, Paris.

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Made with Love

Instruments were made with a multitude of materials; the only limit was the creativity of the craftsman. Some were made by the player, some were made by soldiers who didn’t play for a friend who did. These instruments were beloved by their owners. Making music was an escape from horrors of war.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]violin[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Gas Mask Violin

Yep. This is a trench violin made from gas mask parts. There is something beautiful about taking a piece of equipment intended to save a life during a chemical attack and changing it into something that can save the soul. More than likely, the gas mask was non-functioning and a resourceful soldier repurposed it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Cello in the Trenches[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Basin Mandolin

Instead of using this basin to wash up, someone transformed it into a mandolin. Can’t you picture one soldier asking another to make him an instrument? He’d be able to use his prewar skills to create something far removed from the battle. When he was finished, his fellow soldier could share his musical gifts with his comrades.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The cello in the video below was actually a “vacation” cello. It actually breaks down and all pieces fit inside the body of the cello, which becomes a travel case. It was brought to the front by a man named Harold Triggs. He was called up to fight and brought his cello with him. After the war, the instrument found its way into the hands of Charles Beare, who told world-famous cellist Steven Isserlis about the instrument. When he learned of its existence, he just had to play it.

Watch the video below to hear Steven talk about and play the instrument.

Remember friends, music always finds a way![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/248364212″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Music Matters – But Why?

Music matters

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I’m guessing that if you are here, reading this blog, that music is important to you. Your kids might take part in Kindermusik, or perhaps music lessons. You may attend concerts or listen to music on a regular basis. I probably don’t have to convince you about music’s power and its importance in the human experience. I’m not worried about you. It’s the folks that might not know what music can do – the impact it can have on a person’s life – those are the folks I want to reach.

You may know some folks that might not know the benefits of music education or the effect music has on the developing brain, particularly in young kids. So…I want to turn you all into advocacy experts. I want to provide you with knowledge you can pass on to others when they ask “why is this so important?”

Here we go.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Music Makes You Feel

I bet you’ve had this experience. You are at a concert or you are listening to the radio and a song comes on that you have never heard before. I have had many of these experiences – many of them on the podium while conducting. But the most intense instance was about a year after my father passed away. I was living in Hawai’i by myself. My wife had relocated back to the mainland in anticipation of my discharge from the Navy. I hadn’t really processed my father’s death. I hadn’t cried. I hadn’t really mourned.

As I was driving home from an event in Honolulu, Tracy Chapman’s The Promise came on the radio. Take a listen.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnjegFZGBDk”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It was the combination of Tracy’s voice and the following lyric that got to me:

If you think of me
If you miss me once in a while
Then I’ll return to you
I’ll return and fill that space in your heart

I lost it. I actually had to pull over to the side of the interstate (yes, there are interstate highways in Hawai’i) as I couldn’t see the road through the tears. A year’s worth of bottled emotion all came flooding to the surface because of this song. The music released my previously padlocked feelings about my Dad. How? Music causes chemical changes in the brain. As far as emotion is concerned, music causes the nucleus accumbens, the amygdala, and the cerebellum to light up. These areas are related to emotion.

In this instance, music acted as a key to a lock for me. It was incredibly therapeutic.

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Music Builds Bridges

I’ve told stories about students at festivals sharing why they sing. The answers range from sweet and silly at the beginning of a festival to deep and complex toward the end. Recently, I was in Wisconsin conducting a middle school choral festival. These young musicians had just met each other – 100 seventh, eighth, and ninth graders came together to make music. During breaks, I would ask my question – why do you sing? These kids felt safe enough to share some very meaningful reasons:

“My grandfather passed away three years ago. We would sing together in church choir. It’s my way to stay close to him.”

“It’s the only place I feel like I can really be me.”

“Music makes me realize that I am powerful.”

“Music is my home.”

Last month, I conducted a county high school choral festival. One student wrote the following:

“Music has prevented me from making a decision that could have altered my life (multiple times). It has brought me pure happiness in times of endless sorrow.”

To share these things with folks you have just met doesn’t happen too often. Making music with others builds compassion and empathy. It’s a pretty amazing thing to be a part of.

Experiencing music at a young age starts this process. It helps with social development in ways that other activities do not.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you have a second, head over and read my friend Elliot Cole’s post about why music matters. He shares the story about a prison inmate letting his guard down because of music. It’s quite the tale.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]brain on music[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Music Fertilizes the Brain

Music for music’s sake should be reason enough as to why we should study music. John Adams gave us this gem in a letter to his wife, Abigal Adams:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

It’s right there – one of the United States’s founding fathers told us – music is a noble art and worthy of our time. But, in the interest of advocacy, music has a positive impact on how we learn other subjects. The National Association for Music Education provides a great list for music advocacy superheroes. Here is a selection:

  1. Musical training helps develop language and reasoning: Students who have early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The left side of the brain is better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.
  2. Students learn to improve their work: Learning music promotes craftsmanship, and students learn to want to create good work instead of mediocre work. This desire can be applied to all subjects of study.
  3. Better SAT scores: Students who have experience with music performance or appreciation score higher on the SAT. One report indicates 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math for students in music appreciation courses.
  4. Kids stay engaged in school: An enjoyable subject like music can keep kids interested and engaged in school. Student musicians are likely to stay in school to achieve in other subjects.

National Association for Music Education

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Music Positively Impacts Health

Physical and mental health. Study after study reinforces the fact that music can have very strong, positive effects on our overall health.

The list goes on. Music can reduce recovery time after surgery and working out. It can improve cognitive brain function and help folks manage anxiety. I’ve said it before – music is magic.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Go Forth and Advocate!

Now that you have the details – spread them far and wide! And if you are looking for more ways to pull music into your life, take a class! Get your kids involved with Kindermusik! Write a song! Don’t wait any longer – go see that band you’ve been wanting to see or maybe head to your local symphony.

Remember friends…music makes it meaningful.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Justa Syndrome

Justa Syndrome

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Pep talk time. In the past two days, I have had two separate interactions with people in my life that reminded me of something many of us will face at some point or another. I call it the “Justa Syndrome.” Our kids will probably face it, too. And if we don’t know how to deal with it, it’s going to be hard to help them work through it.

“So…what is it, Dr. Boyle?” I hear you asking through the fiber-optics and wireless signals of the internet.

I’ll tell you…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

I’m Just a Music Teacher

Interaction #1 is what reminded me of the Justa Syndrome. It sneaks up on you in quiet moments, often when you are doing busy work. Or perhaps you’re riding an elevator, surrounded by other humans, but remaining in relative silence. It’s that sudden (or maybe even constant) thought that what you do (or even who you are) is somehow not enough. This happens often in our field – when asked, a music teacher might say “I’m just a music teacher,” especially if they might not be performing as part of their career.

A friend and colleague emailed me about one of our alums who is out doing her thing. She had just gotten a new post as an organist and had let several of us know. My friend is one of the biggest cheerleaders our students have. He reminded me that he gets “annoyed at those who would say, ‘I’m JUST an elementary/junior high/private music teacher.'”

JUST? He answers that question with, “What do you mean, you’re JUST…Do you realize the impact you have on those students? You may be giving them the only lasting relationship that they have with music!”

He’s right, of course. But it goes beyond our field. Everyone can take pride in the work they do. We all contribute to the whole.

And if you are reading this blog, I assume you probably have a child, maybe more than one. Maybe you are a grandparent or an aunt. Maybe you are a caregiver. When the Justa Syndrome sneaks up on you, remember this friends…you are EVERYTHING to that child. When you love a child unconditionally, when you tuck them in at night with a kiss, when you wake them up in the morning with a smile, when you hug them when they are hurting and laugh with them when they are silly, you are their sun and moon. They trust you in all things. You are never “just” an anything. You are their light in the dark.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Just a Kid

Guess who is even more susceptible to the Justa Syndrome? KIDS! How often have you heard, “I can’t do that. I’m just a kid.” Now…what doesn’t help this is that there certainly are things that kids can’t and shouldn’t do. I don’t want my five-year-old nephew flying my plane…but we could PRETEND to fly or make some paper airplanes! I don’t want my neighbor’s three-year-old daughter operating a jack hammer…but we could get some blocks and build something, then knock it down with glee! We can be portals of possibility for our kids. We can show them the world and all its wonder. We can remind them that they are wondrously made, with a built-in compass that points to the possible. We just have to guide them to age-appropriate possibilities.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][blockquote cite=”Dr. Boyle”]”We can be portals of possibility for our kids.”[/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Enemy of “Justa” is “Trust”

When I work with private voice students and I notice that they are carrying unnecessary tension in the body or the voice, I have them move. I tell them, “The enemy of tension is movement!” As they move about the studio, the tension dissipates and the voice becomes free and easy.

When a child looks inward and says “I’m just a kid. I can’t do that”, to be that portal of possibility, to point the way to something they can do, there must be a beautiful sense of trust between you and that child. That flows from the unconditional love we all have for the kids in our lives. If the child knows you love them, they will trust you. And when you say, “well, it might be hard to do that now, but I bet we could try this!”…they will be more likely to believe you and believe in their own possibilities.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Just Not Ready

Interaction #2 was with one of my private voice students here at my university. She’s a senior and one of the hardest working people I know. She’s organized, respected by her peers and the faculty, and is a joy to teach. This past lesson, I started the way I always do – I asked how she was doing. She started with “It’s okay. I mean, everything is happening so quickly…” and she broke down in tears. This happens more than you’d think, and I keep a stock of tissues for this reason. The relationship between private voice teacher and student is a special one. Our students tend to be more open with us.

I asked her to sit down and handed her the box of tissues. She expressed that she “just didn’t feel ready” for what was coming – the real world.

Normal. I wake up somedays and have that feeling. We are human.

This is a variation of the Justa Syndrome – that feeling of inadequacy.

I needed to remind her of a few things.

“Do you remember coming here as a freshman from high school?

“Yes,” she said.

“And did it feel similar to this, heading into the unknown?”

“Yes!”

Normal.

“Now,” I said, “when you came here, you knew nothing about your chosen field. You were facing several years of new information. It’s completely normal to feel this way right now, but I want to give you some perspective. You are leaving here with four years of accumulated knowledge that you have successfully applied in class, on tests and quizzes, in-field experiences, and now, as an upper-class student who all the other students look up to. Your professors are proud of the work you have done. Your family is proud of you, too. I’ve seen the look in their eyes. We are all in your corner rooting for you. And while it feels overwhelming…I know you are ready. You are more than good enough. You’re you.”

She smiled. “I hadn’t thought about it like that.”

No matter who we are, no matter how old we are or what we do, we will have Justa Syndrome moments. Each of us has opportunities to positively impact others, through our work, through our daily lives, through our relationships. If you made someone smile today, if you held a door open for someone or picked up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, or if you made the life of a child brighter and fuller with love, then you are not “justa” anything. You are you.

And that’s everything.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Building Community Through Music

Building community

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I travel quite a lot as a conductor. I guest conduct choral festivals in various locations as a part of my musical life. Last month, I found myself working with the New Jersey Treble All-State Choir, an ensemble made up of high school sopranos and altos. These types of festivals are always exciting for me. There’s something special about conducting a group that will only exist for a very short period of time. After the performance is over, that ensemble will never exist again. For this choir, people come from high schools all over New Jersey to make music with strangers. One of the things I always focus on is building a community in the ensemble, even for the brief time they are together – because an ensemble that has a sense of community about it will always make more meaningful music. This is directly related to the emotional and social benefits found in a Kindermusik class[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Connections

To be bold, building that sense of community is actually more important to me than the music; particularly at first. The ensemble won’t trust me just because I was selected by a committee and have fancy letters after my name. I work hard to prove to them that I am there for them as people first, musicians second. I do my best to connect to each person – all 150 or them – in some meaningful way, even if it’s only for a second. This often takes the form of standing at the door and greeting each person with a handshake and asking their name. I might walk through the rows of singers and do the same.

As we move from piece to piece, I often ask the musicians to turn to their neighbor behind or in front of them (this will prevent students from the same school as the default interaction as they often sit next to each other) and share something about themselves that makes them proud or that makes them smile. This breaks down walls and starts to build simple, but powerful connections between the singers. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Purpose

I admit, I talk a lot in rehearsal. I certainly talk less now than I did when I was younger, but I do still talk quite a bit. We talk about the text of the music and what it means for us and our audience. We talk about composer’s intent. We talk about what our job as musicians is…what our purpose is. Put plainly, I tell the students that it’s our job to change lives for the better. It’s our job to make people feel something. To give the audience a shared experience. That is difficult to do without a unified sense of the music we make. I ask questions. I encourage mistakes…bold mistakes…mistakes to be celebrated. I tell them that the person who makes no mistakes makes nothing. I do my level-headed best to create an environment of possibility in which we can learn from a mistake and not be embarrassed by it.

When the rehearsal starts, the very first thing we do is sing. That’s our practical task at hand. Our purpose is to enrich each other’s lives with the shared experience of music, thereby enriching the lives of our audience. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][blockquote cite=”Unknown”]”The person who makes no mistakes makes nothing.”[/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Community
Choral singers holding hands…building on that sense of family and community.

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Music’s Magic

I talk about this a great deal on this blog. There certainly is a ton of science that tells us, as best it can, why music affects us the way it does. We talk about that, too; it’s important to know that information. But, as silly as it might be, I fully embrace Albus Dumbledore’s take on music, so beautifully stated in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

It is magic. A roomful of singers who have never made music together smile at the wonder of it all. They feel the connection, almost instantly. Kindred spirits from different communities, ethnic backgrounds, faith experiences, and socio-economic groups coming together to sing, one of the purest forms of musical expression. Each singer finds their place rather quickly as we understand our common goal…to change lives.

We work hard for three and a half hours. I sweat like crazy (I’m quite active in rehearsal). We practice extravagant gratitude. I ask them to thank each other and thank our collaborative pianist. I ask them to thank their choral directors at their high school. I ask them to thank their parents and guardians. I ask them to feel proud of their work. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

End Game

When we are done after this initial meeting, this first rehearsal, a new family has been created. A new community full of connections and shared purpose and magic has been born. Hopefully, they are looking forward to the next rehearsal, this opportunity to be together as that community to change lives, even each other’s lives.

One of the most important aspects of the Kindermusik experience is making music with other kiddos. The social/emotional benefits of this activity can’t be overstated. As kids see others engaged in an activity that brings themselves joy, the spark of connection lights a fire within. Emotional sensitivity for others is increased. The very idea of cooperative society blossoms in a Kindermusik class.

Our educators approach what they do in the same way I approach all my rehearsals…with love. It’s an honor to change a life with music. And every day we wake up knowing that’s what we get to do, we friends, that is a good day. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Reunited: A Short Film About Music and the Human Spirit

spirit

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Friends, I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll continue to say it: music is magic. Below, you’ll find a short, five-minute film about Edward Hardy, a retiree in Somerset, England, and Sam Kinsella, a young man looking for a few extra bucks. Sam’s search lead him to Mellifont Abbey, a residential care facility in Somerset and the position of activities coordinator. What happened next was nothing short of amazing, a word that gets tossed around a bit too casually for my taste. But for Sam and Mr. Hardy, no other word will do. Together, they discovered how music can heal the spirit.

Mr. Hardy had been suffering from dementia for some time. He would pound on the floor and call for help for no reason. His interaction with others was limited and strained. He was depressed and detached.

Sam eventually disclosed to Mr. Hardy that he was part of a band in Somerset. This bit of information seemed to pique Mr. Hardy’s interest. He told Sam that he played piano for years.

This gave Sam an idea. He had a keyboard brought in for Mr. Hardy. This was the beginning of a new light in the 93 year-old’s life. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Hardy came out of his shell and played for everyone.

But Sam wasn’t done.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Spirit
Mr. Hardy plays with former bandmates.

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We’re Getting the Band Back Together!

Sam decided to seek out some local musicians so Mr. Hardy could make music with a group again. People came out of the woodwork to make music with Mr. Hardy. To Sam’s surprise, among them were some of the original members of Mr. Hardy’s band. They gladly came out to Mellifont Abbey for a jam session. You’ll see Mr. Hardy make music with them in the film, and the obvious joy on his face when he does.

This lead to the idea of having the newly reformed group give a concert at Mellifont. This not only brought joy to Mr. Hardy, but to the other residents as well.

Mr. Hardy’s story was featured on the BBC and other news sites across the UK. Music, that magical art form, is now a more regular part of life at Mellifont Abbey. And Mr. Hardy, he found a little bit of himself that was lost.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/Tp6c_oG1SBk”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][class_finder_form css=”.vc_custom_1500644816485{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ben Folds, the National Symphony Orchestra, and Magic: Improvisation Unpacked

Improvisation

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]You may have recently watched a viral video of Ben Folds improvising a work with the National Symphony Orchestra. It’s rather impressive and demonstrates a host of skill sets, not just by Ben, but by the entire orchestra. To create something new on the  spot like this takes knowledge and talent. While Ben is calling the shots, it’s a team effort. These musicians have put in a lifetime of practice to get to this level. Let’s unpack what you are seeing in this short video; there is A LOT going on.


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Improvisation
Ben Folds doing what he does best – singing his head off!

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 Selecting Home Base

The very first thing that is selected is a key center. This is basically picking the musical neighborhood in which all the musicians will play. All basic, western musical keys consist of a set of seven notes. You might be familiar with the song from The Sound of Music, Do Re Mi” in which Julie Andrews lays out the pattern for a major scale – Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti and Do is repeated at the top. You can start on any note on the piano and sing this pattern. The easiest way to find it on the piano is to play C to C on all white notes – that’s the key of C Major. The audience selects a minor. Minor keys are a slightly different pattern. If you were to play A to A on the piano using all white notes, you’d get the a minor scale. With the key selected, the musicians know to hang out in the musical neighborhood of a minor. If they were artists, they might agree upon the same color palette.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Tempo

The next choice the audience makes for Ben and the NSO is the general tempo. Tempo can really affect the mood of a piece of music. Give the choice of a ballad (generally slow) or something upbeat, the audience (nearly unanimously) selects upbeat, indicating a faster speed.

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Text

Ben is a song writer, so they needed a text. The audience is asked to find an interesting bit of text from the evening’s program booklet.

The key, tempo, and text selections can be seen below.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/226328589″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Magic Starts – with a Joke

Ben sits at the keyboard and readies himself to create something entirely new. This is amazing when it happens by yourself as a composer – when you find that right sound and jot it down on staff paper or on the computer. It’s another level of awesomeness when you do it with 50 other people in real time. Be fore he gets started, he makes a wonderful musical joke, invoking Beethoven. He asks, “It has to be something completely new, right?” Without missing a beat, he mimics (although incorrectly – but we’ll forgive him) the main motive of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

After creating a grove, Ben moves on to a basic melody with the text. He then starts assigning parts to the various sections of the orchestra, starting with the cellos. He instructs them to play “arco,” or with the bow rather than plucking the strings with the fingers. He plays a pattern using the notes A, E, and the next octave B. Without telling the cellos what the notes are, or writing out the rhythms, the cellos nail it. This is exactly what happens in a Kindermusik class when children learn new songs by ear. He further instructs them to alter the pattern on the second iteration. “Just one on the second one.” He then asks for the same pattern at a different pitch level, creating a different harmony. He then asks for a low C and a then a low E, both held for four counts. Note that everyone knows what time signature he’s in just by listening – four beats to the measure. Here’s the creation of he cello line:[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/226342028″][blockquote cite=”Ben Folds”]”It takes a second to create a whole song.”[/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Winds – Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, and Basson

Next, Ben moves on to the reed section and suggests a “one size fits all” accompaniment figure for them. he then, like composers do ALL THE TIME while composing (one of my teachers used to say that there is no good writing, only good rewriting), decides to just give a harmony figure to the clarinets. You’ll note he uses the term “concert” G and E. This is too complicated to explain in detail, but some instruments, clarinets among them, transpose. This means that they might play a written A, but it sounds a “concert” G. Don’t worry about it too much!

So – he asks the clarinets to pick a pitch – E or G – and rock back and forth to that pitches lower neighbor on fast moving notes. It sound like a little flutter. He puts it together with the cellos and decides to make a small change – joking with the audience that it “takes a second to create a whole song.” On the fly, Ben is fitting the pieces together as he creates them. Take a listen:[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/226345129″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Violins,Violas, and the Rest

Moving on to the rest of strings, he improvises parts for both the first and second violins – slow moving notes in harmony. Not wanting to leave the violas out in the rain, he gives them what he calls a “little timing shizzle.” He gives them what is best described as a rhythmic ostinato – a pattern that repeats over and over. It’s also syncopated, meaning it happens on the off beat. You’ll feel it.

He then turns to the double basses and says “You know what you must do.” Their repeated quarter note figures on the lowest note of the harmony are sort of a bass line trope and why the audience (and the basses) laugh.

Ben then asks the drummer to do his thing, relying on his musical instinct. He asks for a trumpet solo and…ta-da…the under pinnings of a new song are created.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/226350128″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Final Product

And with that, away they go. You’ll note in the final video that some instruments Ben never mentioned play – the horns in F are an example. These are top shelf artists. They know how to join the fun with the information Ben has provided.

He set out to create something new in ten minutes, and that’s exactly what he did. Just shy of the ten minute mark he completes his instructions and the conductor counts everyone in. Ben riffs a melody on text from the program book and eventually gets to the selected text. The act of creation isn’t complete until the music is delivered to an audience. The fun part about this compositional process? The audience was there to see it unfold before hearing the final product. That mad it even more special.

Listen to the end result – its a lot of fun to experience the new song after watching it be built from nothing by a room full of classical musicians, lead by one of the most talented singer-songwriters of our time.

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/226351404″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Ben demonstrates the joys of creating original music and improvisation, and he does so with four chords, a room full of incredibly talented orchestral players, and the words from a program book. The truth is, with just a little bit of knowledge, anyone can write a song, and it expresses who you are in a way that mere words just can’t. I’ve taught lots of students over the years, and one of my most special memories is teaching a brother and sister (ages 8 and 11) how to write a song during a summer program. We had so much fun coming up with words and a melody. It was rewarding for all of us.

Writing music is similar to building a house. In the end, you’ve created something. But things crumble. A song lasts forever as long as there’s someone around to sing it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Everyone Can Sing

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A recent article, written by Northwestern music education professor, Steven M. Demorest, over at The Conversation, an “independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public,” explored the idea of musical talent.

The most telling fact, one that I have been aware of for most of my career as a choral conductor, is that adults who consider themselves unmusical were often told that they couldn’t sing as children. Prof. Demorest relates part of the story of Sing, an Oscar-winning short film from Hungary about a girl named Zsófi.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Sing tells the story of young Zsófi, who joins a renowned children’s choir at her elementary school where “everyone is welcome.”

Soon after joining, Zsófi is told by her teacher Erika not to sing, but only mouth the words. On the face of it, she accepts her teacher’s request stoically. But later in the movie, her anguish and pain become obvious, when she reluctantly tells her best friend what happened.

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Dr. Steven Demorest
Dr. Steven Demorest

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Our culture has become obsessed with the idea of “talent.” The concept that making music is reserved for the revered few is promoted by shows like America’s Got Talent and The Voice. I don’t want to take away from the entertainment value of these shows – the people that perform on them are certainly gifted. But the reality is this: every child is born a natural musician. They sing and dance and make music from the very beginning. They are surrounded by music – so – they respond by mimicking what they hear. If this inherent ability is fostered the benefits are life-changing.[/vc_column_text][blockquote cite=”Dr. Steven Demorest, Northwestern University”]”…indeed every child has musical ability that can be developed into a satisfying and lifelong relationship with music.”[/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Negative feedback can come from many different places, especially peers. Sadly, it can also come from music educators and even parents. This has a lasting effect on self-esteem and the desire to make music, especially singing. Singing is an intensely personal activity. It’s just you – no external instrument. You can’t put the instrument down and ignore it. You carry it with you. When the singing voice is disparaged, it is very difficult to not allowed that disparagement have an impact on the entire self.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Combating the “Talent Mindset” with the “Growth Mindset”

Carol Dweck, psychologist, author, and professor, researches why and how people succeed. Here’s the main point of “Growth Mindset”:

Students who view their success as a result of hard work will persevere through challenges, while students who believe their success lies with some innate ability – like “talent” – are more likely to give up.

Watch Dr. Dweck’s TEDTalk below.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/226460812″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]sing[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Encourage, Encourage, Encourage

So what can we do to get kids on board the train destined for a lifelong connection with music? The most important thing we can do is getting them started early. This is one of the reasons Kindermusik classes are open to newborn infants. To be surrounded by music from birth helps set the tone for that lifelong connection. As the child grows, immersed in musical experiences coupled with positive support of their musical activity from parents and educators, their confidence in music making will grow as well – and the host of social, emotional, and cognitive benefits music provides will be part of their life’s journey.

Dr. Demorest tells us that perhaps the most important impact on a child’s desire to continue to make music is having an example of music making in the home.

…if you are a parent, you could sing the music you loved growing up and not worry about how good you sound. Having an adult in the home committed to music and singing without shame may be the most powerful influence on a child. You could sing with your kids from the time they are little, sing with the radio, sing in the car or sing at the dinner table.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]sing[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Along with Dr. Demorest, I find the Hungarian title of Sing very telling. It’s Mindenki, which is Hungarian for…Everybody. It’s perfect, isn’t it? I firmly believe that music is for everybody, especially singing. And when you sing with others you are more likely to have empathy for them, to listen to them when they share their ideas. You become part of a community.

I always tell my students that the main reason we have a singing voice is to give it away to others. That’s certainly true, but for young children, the singing voice allows them to express their joy in a way words alone cannot. It can heal the spirit and free the mind.

Start ’em young and keep ’em singing. They’ll thank you for it later.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][class_finder_form css=”.vc_custom_1500653314338{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Children’s Book Review: The Wonderful Things You Will Be

Children's Book Review

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a stunningly gorgeous picture book, both in its sentiment and in its illustrations.  Full of expectant promise and embodying the beauty of the unique potential that is in all of us, the author poignantly voices in lilting rhyme what is in every parent’s heart as they look at their child, whether it’s looking into that sweet tiny newborn face or the eyes of your child grown up too fast and about to graduate.

Written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin, The Wonderful Things You Will Be is one of those books that is a delight for both parents and children to read, and one of those beloved books you don’t mind reading over and over and over again.  The story is full of hope, acceptance, and limitless possibility, but is written in such a way that its message deeply resonates in the hearts of young and old alike.
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Beautiful artwork accompanies the touching sentiments.
Beautiful artwork accompanies the touching sentiments.

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“This is the first time
There’s ever been you,
So I wonder what wonderful things
You will do.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]With gentle humor and questions throughout the book, the author cleverly creates opportunities for lots of discussion about each person’s special gifts and the unique contribution he or she is meant to make to this world.  But the author also states the loveliest of assumptions and timeless truths such as:[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

“I know you’ll be kind…
And clever…
and bold.
And the bigger your heart,
The more it will hold.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, lending to the heart-tugging effect of the book, and with a very creative and surprise gatefold at the end, this is a delightful book to read, share, and gift.  We’re sure it will become one of your favorites, just as it has quickly become one of ours!

The Wonderful Things You Will Be, written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin, is available at your local book shop and online at Amazon in both Kindle and hardcover formats.


[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Review contributed by Theresa Case who has had the joy of helping children and families begin to discover all of the wonderful things they can be through her award-winning Kindermusik program at Piano Central Studios in Greenville, South Carolina, for over 20 years now.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Alex and Music’s Magic: A Kindermusik Story

Kindermusik Story

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mark and Kim Elicker and their son Ethan were a wonderful family, but they all had so much more love to give. About six years ago they traveled to China to adopt two year old Alex. This is his story – a story of endless love and musical magic.


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Kindermusik for Ethan

Before Alex came home to his family, Kim, an early childhood educator herself, took her son Ethan to Kindermusik from the time he was a baby until he aged out. Lydia Klinger was their Kindermusik educator and really drew the family in. Kim shares why she choose Kindermusik:

Lydia was the reason we started and fell in love with the program. With Ethan I admit I valued the social benefits of being with other Mom’s and families. As an early childhood educator I connected with the developmental appropriateness of the curriculum. Years later when we adopted Alex, I once again became a stay at home mom and I wanted that connection to other families. I chose Kindermusik again with Alex because I loved it so much with Ethan, but I honestly, remember seeking activities that I believed would foster our bond and attachment.

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The day Alex legally became a member of the Elicker family!
The day Alex legally became a member of the Elicker family!

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Alex Comes Home

When Alex came home with the Elickers at age two he wasn’t very verbal. He was a child surrounded by sounds he had never heard. Occasionally, he’d speak a word or two of Mandarin, like mā-ma (mother), bà-ba (father), gē-ge (older brother), and siè-sie (thank you).

Dr. Boyle: When Alex came home with you, how would you describe him?

Kim Elicker: He was quiet and energetic, though when he first came home he didn’t have a lot of stamina. He was curious and resourceful! He could play with a bucket, a box of crayons, and a paper bag. That was just him – he didn’t need anything fancy.

DB: You mentioned he wasn’t very verbal.

KE: He wasn’t. And that’s a typical very typical of children who are adopted into a family who speaks a different language than he was born into.

DB: Right…so what he had been hearing for the first two years of his life, he’s wasn’t hearing that any more and was a completely different environment for him.

KE: Exactly. In our situation, everything changed – what he saw, what he heard, what he smelled, even what touched his skin. It was all very different.

DB: So…you shared with me that on days he was going to Kindermusik, Alex tended to be more verbal.

KE: Yes. In the beginning, receptively he picked up English rather quickly. He was following simple one step directions.

DB: Little kids are sponges.

KE: Yes! But his communication pretty much shut down verbally. We expected that from classes we took before the adoption. His brain was switching gears. We read to him, we talked to him, we engaged him all the time, but he didn’t attempt to speak a lot.

When we started Kindermusik, in the beginning much of it was listening in that particular first program he was in. I noticed his concentration level – his focus – was very intent. He would be very tired those afternoons after Kindermusik in the morning!

By his second set of classes, I started noticing a change. We’d go to Kindermusik, we’d have lunch, and the rest of the day he’d be much more talkative. He’d attempt new words. Anytime he tried new words, it seemed to be on Kindermusik days. Once I noticed the pattern, I really started paying attention to it. It followed this trend for about a year.

DB: And did you take part in the classes with him?

KE: Yes.

DB: That’s great. There’s all this research out there that tells us that because of the way music impacts the brain, when you make music with another person, it builds empathy between you and the other person, it builds trust between you and that other person. You can become more comfortable with that person when you share a musical experience.

KE: That’s an interesting take on my situation. When you are first adopting you need to build trust. That’s part of the attachment process. It’s an interesting thing for me to hear you say – it makes total sense![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Alex and Ethan
Ethan and Alex having fun in the band room.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]DB: Sounds like Kindermusik was an important part of Alex’s process.

KE: Yes! I remember sharing the news of Alex’s increased verbal activity with Lydia, our Kindermusik educator. She said it just gave her chills! She was excited to get that feedback.

DB: I would imagine! Kindermusik is certainly fun with music and movement, but the mission is really to help kids develop socially and emotionally…getting them to interface with other kids and have positive interactions with adults. It helps them move through those developmental domains.

KE: Certainly. And in our case, it was quite obvious because he wasn’t really verbal at all…it was very easy to pick up on when was happening.

DB: It’s just so cool to hear about this – a very specific situation in which music helped a child affected by a rather involved transition find his voice. That’s music reaching parts of the brain that everyday speech or conversation does not. I would imagine that music coupled with music was helpful.

KE: Yes! That was his other area. According to the typical US standard, he would have been lacking in gross motor. Within six months he had caught up. The movement in the class was beneficial.

DB: That’s great. So how long did Alex do Kindermusik?

KE: He was five, almost six when we stopped. When we love something we stick with it![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Kindermusik Educator
Lydia Klinger, the Elicker’s Kindermusik Educator, with Ethan, and guest trumpet player Allen Vizzuti.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Kindermusik was a very important part of the Elickers lives. Ethan, now 15, lives for the trumpet and plays as often as he can. And Alex? He’s going into third grade this fall. He’s taking piano lessons and singing in church. His ultimate goal is to play organ!

Lydia, their Kindermusik Educator, retired after 20 years of serving musical smiles to her community. She now plays with the Harrisburg Symphony. The Elickers still keep in touch with her. Recently, she arranged a meeting with the Symphony’s guest trumpeter, Allen Vizzuti and Ethan.

For the Elickers, participating in Kindermusik classes helped smooth the complex process of an international adoption, helping Alex open up and explore his verbal possibilities in his new language. As an educator, Kim knew exactly what was happening. As a mom, she got to see music work its magic in her son’s young life. Friends, that’s why Kindermusik Educators do what they do. They are in it to change lives.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Ethan prepares to play a duet with a friend.
Alex prepares to play a duet with a friend.

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