What I love about choir rehearsals and young children is that no matter what age or level of experience, children can bring all parts of themselves — body, mind, and spirit — to express themselves individually and together as a choir. I begin each rehearsal with physical movement that invigorates the body and wakes up the mind. Vocal exercises warm up the voice and prepare us to use the instrument that each of us carries with us to make music together. The spirit joins in as our voices sing melody and lyric. Joy, beauty, artistic creativity, and self-expression are the result. When started at a young age, children quickly master musical skills such as breath control, rhythm, melodic phrasing, even sightreading, to produce a work of art in the short time period of a rehearsal.
I have been fortunate enough to work with children and singing for the last thirty years as a choral director and private voice teacher. In that time, I have experienced the powerful and lasting effect that music can have on a person’s lived experience. As young singers come together to rehearse, they leave behind personal problems with family, friends, school, and focus instead on listening, breathing, and creative expression.
We intend to begin our Sistema program here in Northumberland County with singing and drumming: singing because everyone has a voice and everyone has the right to express themselves through singing; drumming because we are
inherently rhythmical, and drumming is a fun and effective way to teach rhythmic readiness.
In a presentation titled Arts Education For The Development Of The Whole Child (2011) Dr. Rena Upitis discussed a previous three-year study conducted by herself and Dr. Katharine Smithrim. The study took place in Toronto with
schools involved in “Learning Through The Arts”, a program that pairs professional artists and classroom teachers for the purpose of teaching curriculum skills through the arts. In discussing the results of their study, Upitis said:
Nearly all parents (90%) reported that the arts motivated their children to learn. This was the case in LTTA [Learning Through The Arts] schools, but also in the control schools following the regular curriculum programs. Parents claimed that the LTTA program provided greater interest for their children to attend school, increased the self-confidence and self-esteem of their children, improved their children’s social skills as they became less shy and more outgoing, provided them with opportunities to thrive, increased their skills in various art forms, and increased their desire to attend school” (Upitis and Smithrim, 2003).
She then discussed an American study:
A comprehensive American study tracking 25,000 middle school children over a ten year period, indicates that for all students—but particularly for those in the lower socioeconomic group—academic performance, attitudes, and behaviour are all positively correlated with high arts involvement (Catterall, Chapleau, and Iwanaga 1999). Among students from low socio-economic households, 43.8% of those highly involved in the arts scored in the top two quartiles in reading, compared to 28.6% of students with little or no arts engagement. When the entire student sample was considered, 70.9% of students with high arts engagement scored in the top two quartiles in reading, compared to 46.3 of the students with low arts engagement.
Each of us has a unique voice. When given the opportunity, children can learn to express themselves with confidence and integrity. Every child in this country has the right to an education that teaches them the skills required to read, write, and do mathematics. Socio-economic conditions should not exclude children from the opportunity to experience creative self-expression. Music is one way to experience the world with a deeper level of understanding. I know that even the youngest choir members can experience the joy of artistic brilliance, foster satisfying relationships, feel as if they are part of something important and greater than themselves.
Choir is a place in my life where body, mind, and spirit function to create what is needed in the moment. For me to remain “in the moment”, allowing inspiration to appear, seems to be a relational process. When the notes are learned and conductor and singers are riding the same musical wave: this is the place that deepens life experience.
In the words of the 13th century poet Rumi:
You are song, a wished-for song
Go through the ear to the center,
Where sky is, where wind,
Where silent knowing.
Put seeds and cover them.
Blades will sprout
where you do your work.
– Posted by Marie