Resources for Renewal: Part III
While I was editor of PIO!, I initiated a new feature called “Resources for Renewal.”
The premise: What one or two resources have made an enduring impact and continue to inspire and sustain you as a
“Resources for Renewal” debuted in the Spring 2017 issue, followed by Part II in Fall 2017. These exchanges confirmed that our members’ knowledge and life experiences are indeed our greatest treasure—and they inspired our third compilation, which celebrates our community and CMN’s rich spiritual and intellectual life. Enjoy!
When reflecting on the resources that have inspired and guided us musically, I first think of our many years doing church music.
As Catholic youth in the 1970s, David and I both began playing music at our weekly “folk mass,” which consisted of as many
guitars and voices as possible. Because at the time there were not many liturgical songs, we relied on inspirational folk songs like Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Liturgical Catholic music grew over the years, and we got to be involved in many exciting events—even playing for Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and Mother Teresa in the 1990s.
Years later, when we got involved in children’s music, we were asked specifically to write educational music. We wanted to support
teachers in the classroom with creative ideas, especially in the new era of teaching to the test. We turned to various state and
national standards (and later, to the Common Core), which were incredible resources for early education (preschool–second grade). Each standard provided a road map to identify content we knew would help teachers in the classroom.
Perhaps our best resource, though, has been our three children. When they were young, David continually wrote songs to make them smile, to calm their fears, and to bring silliness into our home. Now as adults and musicians themselves, our children continue to inspire us on every level, to make us smile, and to bring hope and a little bit of silliness too.
My best resource is other musicians, especially musicians who sing and write songs for children. CMN members have been a terrific source of information over the years, providing me with lots of songs and techniques for my music classrooms, as well as tips on how to record my songs, get jobs, and book shows.
Beyond direct contact with other musicians, I also rely on musicians’ websites, YouTube channels, and online searches. Sometimes a search will lead to an awesome song that my children love, such as “Olélé,” a song from the Congo. It was a hit with my Montessori preschool children last fall.
YouTube channel favorites include:
Jbrary - such a treasure, from two librarians in Canada
Alina Celeste - winner of Parents’ Choice Gold for her Youtube channel
Susan Salidor - for finger plays and simple fun songs infused with her unique and wonderful style
1-2-3 Andres - the most joyful videos in any language!
Elizabeth Mitchell - many of her videos are posted by Smithsonian Folkways and are just lovely to watch and listen to! “Froggie Went a Courtin’ ” is a classic. I want to live in this world, or at least visit!
Jazzy Ash - back to roots of traditional African American music for children, plus jazz, of course
My own YouTube channel is a work in progress, moving more slowly than I’d hoped, but I do keep up my playlists and I’m working on some fun new stuff for 2019. I also have a big shelf of music books and children’s music CDs, but I use them less than you might think.
Past writers have mentioned Mama Lisa’s World (jaw-dropping collection of global songs) and Jbrary (vast collection of videos of simple songs). Both sites are worthy of exploration.
One book that has had a tremendous impact on me is Before the Basics, by the late Bev Bos. The wisdom and assertions in this deceptively short volume were laid to paper a few decades ago, but still ring true today. This book has influenced my music, my conversing with children, how I enter or leave a classroom, my understanding of what children need and how to provide that, how I develop songs with children, how I use instruments in class—everything.
To me, this is a must-have for anyone working with children ages seven and younger. I have read and reread passages of this book, memorizing quotes to use later. Here’s a sample from near the beginning:
If the individual child is the focus [of education], absolute quiet isn’t to be expected. I expect the joyful noise; I expect children to march to different drums. I don’t like chaos, and we don’t have chaos, but I’m not afraid to let the children go a little, because I know I can get them back.
I am blessed with a kaleidoscope of resources for my music programs. CMN has been my consistent go-to resource since Pam Donkin gifted me a membership in 2006. I love the trifecta of songs, friendships, and support.
I am a people person and prefer the exchange of energy during a telephone conversation. Any opportunity to gather is a blessing and provides a treasure trove of materials. When I learn a song from a live performance (either by the composer or shared by another musician), it changes how I present it to my students. I once again enjoy the magic I felt upon the first hearing, and I then try to channel that energy with my students.
We live in a culture of social media, so I have elected to join in rather than be left out. I follow a variety of groups on Facebook. Some are for music and some are for research that explains and supports the positive effects of music and movement.
The flip side of using Facebook is that when I comment, I am putting out my name and experience out as a resource. I call this bonus “Revolving reciprocal resourcing”!
The lyrics of this song say it all:
Love goes ’round like a circle.
Starts with me and goes to you.
Spreads around the world
Uniting us in peace and friendship too.
As a writer, I find myself turning to poetry for sustenance. Opening up a book of poems and reading one or two or three gives me a concentrated burst of word splendor. The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova has inspired me for a long time—not only for her poems, but also for the fact that she continued writing in a time of terrible repression and censorship. She, and other writers who faced such adversity, remind me to keep going despite the obstacles. Other poets who have sustained me for many years are Langston Hughes, Gabriel Garcia Lorca, Audre Lorde, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, and Naomi Shihab Nye. Musically, I have nourished myself on a steady diet of folky/bluesy/acoustic-y singers, starting with Suzanne Vega in high school and progressing through Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, Dar Williams, Lucinda Williams, Pete Seeger, Nancy Griffith, Ani DiFranco, Gypsy Kings, and Mavis Staples. Lately when I need a boost, I put on Sally Rogers’s album, We’ll Pass Them On, which never fails to lift my spirits. Also, cat videos. Or even better, cats.
My best resources have been my students. No matter what I teach them, they always come up with something that can enhance my knowledge on the subject. Even now when I teach piano, students ask great questions about everything. They can get really creative about their answers and sometimes are very silly.
One day I was in a music theory mode, teaching about musical intervals. I was demonstrating these on the piano, and I showed my piano student, Nathaniel, examples of a (perfect) fourth and a (perfect) fifth, which inspired him to call the major second interval a “twoth”!
Questions like, “If the piano has a soft pedal, where is the loud pedal?” get me thinking.
So, for the creative part of my brain to work, I need students.
When I seek a breath of fresh air, I go outside, into the natural world. In the real world of nature there is much beauty, simplicity, and honesty. A favorite practice of mine, with a name new to me, “Forest Bathing,” is the act of walking in deep woods and surrounding oneself with all that the forest generously gives. Another practice is listening to water. I love and marvel at the variety of sounds of a powerful waterfall, a booming ocean surf, or the gentle trickling of a stream. Near where I live is a creek that cuts through the city; roads follow along its path, and I drive these roads to avoid the traffic of the cluttered areas. I have been known to stop alongside the creek—where I know I can hear the stream babbling—roll down my car window, and be sure I hear its song.
One quick read of the above and you will deduce that I am an introvert—which is true, but another side of me comes to life when I am surrounded by good friends, or at least people of good will. I find myself enjoying people who love to laugh and tell stories, as I do, and feeling recharged by the social contact. I have often come home from a Children’s Music Network event feeling refreshed, renewed, and with many more songs and memories of good friends than I thought possible. Life is good.
Dave Orleans, The Earthsinger
(Retired Park Naturalist, Folksinger, and Amateur Folklorist, Historian, Librarian, and so on.)
I have always been a collector of things (from baseball cards as a kid, and comic books as a college student), ideas, cool trivia (three loose-leaf binders full of the fascinating origins of ordinary things), and most important of all, songs—from those I grew up on, to the environmental teaching songs that formed the basis of my master’s thesis in environmental education, and finally, the children’s songs that I have been enthusiastically collecting and attempting to organize from the CMN listserv (and before that, the Children’s Music Web listserv) since 1998.
During my years as a volunteer at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, I had the unique opportunity to hear all the great folk performers who came through Philly from 1975 to 2005 and learned bunches of songs from them. One year in particular profoundly influenced my future musical direction, when Pete Seeger and the Hudson River Sloop Singers, Bill Staines, and David Mallett, all performed at the festival. Pete and the Sloop Singers did a workshop on using songs to bring their environmental message to a wider audience. Staines’s “A Place In the Choir” and Mallet’s “The Garden Song” also filled the air that year.
From then on, my ear was always listening for a song with an turn of ecological phrase, or a resource that contained multiple songs with
earth-friendly ideas. Among the most important early resources for me in that vein were The Sierra Club Survival Songbook and a
smaller paperback called The Sierra Club Songbook (in much the same style as the World Around Songs pocket songbook series).
Then I found a host of environmentally themed LPs, including Equilibrium: Songs of Nature and Humanity from the National Audubon Society, Pete Seeger’s God Bless the Grass, and Billy B’s first educational albums, Billy B Sings About Trees and Romp in the Swamp.
The first stories and storybooks that informed my Earthsong collecting included Bill Peet’s The Wump World, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and a spoken word piece called Molly and the Whale on John McCutcheon’s 1983 children’s cassette, Howjadoo.
Since then, my collection has grown to over 3,500 songs and at least a couple hundred books, stories, and plays on a variety of media.
From the Philadelphia Folk Fest and Hudson River Revival, to the CMN listserv, and all the stops in between, I continue to find inspiration in the wealth of resources from the people I’ve heard, seen, read, and met through my life.
Oh, so many: friends and their music (many from CMN), the faces and stories of the children, teachers, librarians, and school administrators I meet along the way. They all enrich and feed my life and work that I do. However, my friendship and collaboration with Stuart Stotts is the most significant resource that sustains me. Some time in the 1990s, we began to work together on songs and eventually started doing school songwriting residencies. Our joy of working together blossomed quickly alongside our friendship. It’s true we both mainly work as solo performers, and Stuart leads many more teacher trainings than I do. But our performance and teaching styles are similar enough to give us great empathy in dealing with the ins and outs of the work. I love him dearly and he’s my most cherished go-to resource.
I must say, I’m also sustained by my life of working and taking care of our farm. I’m not sure I would be in this work (performing, teaching, songwriting) still if I hadn’t had both my friendship with Stuart and my work on our place. They feed my soul. Without them and CMN, it would have been, in the end, a completely different journey.
How do I love thee, CMN? Let me count the ways. Okay, admittedly, that’s a bit over the top, but this altered quote comes to mind when I consider the premise of “one or two resources that have made an enduring impact on you as a thinker/teacher/communicator.”
I think I had an idea of the potential influence CMN would have in my life and music teaching career after having sent Sarah Pirtle a request for teaching ideas to use with her latest tape. I received, along with her teaching tips, CMN membership info and an issue of my first Pass It On! (Issue 3, August 1988). I immediately joined, attended my first New York Metro gathering, and have never looked back. The richness and depth of my curriculum owe much to the talented member contributions and gifts I receive from CMN. Whether the topic is a difficult one to approach, or has become trite, or simply needs a more creative touch, I have been able to tap CMN’s resources to fill my curricular needs. Even with something that I have known, sung, and taught for years, I thrill at what I learn from a member who presents a new take that has never occurred to me, with a new (and useful!) approach. My own creativity continues to grow with encouragement, support, and inspiration from fellow members. And most importantly, CMN’s mission reminds me of the importance of the work that we do.
My complementary influence is the pedagogy of Orff Schulwerk. The use of creative movement, improvisation, multicultural stories and songs that enable children to explore, create, and experience their own ideas and imaginations is joyful and exhilarating. The National Conference of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA), with more than 2,000 attendees, is huge compared to CMN’s cozy numbers at our Annual Conference, but it is just as giving, welcoming, inclusive, and inspiring.
I relish learning new repertoire. This year, Stuart Stotts’ song, “Who’s Gonna Change It?,” came to our email inboxes in early September, just in time for me to use as a cornerstone in our school year, which began with an assembly in support of Ally Week. And I appreciate being inspired. An idea that I took with me from the November AOSA conference led to a piece that one of my second-grade classes performed in December 2018. And finally, I actively “pass it on.” There are songs that are old friends by CMNers that I love to sing with my students year after year.
So how do I love thee, CMN and Orff Schulwerk? In so many ways!
This is such a great discussion; I’m happy to be part of it. Others have mentioned CMN as a major source of inspiration in their music, and that is certainly true for me. Over the years, the songs shared, the conversations I’ve had, and the friendships I’ve formed all have had a huge impact on me and my work with children. I would say it’s the biggest influence of all. The conferences, website, and online discussion group definitely are key, but I want to specifically mention Pass It On! as well. It has been a great source of ideas, whether from the songs and interviews included or the variety of columns shared. This wonderful publication we have developed over the years continues to be a rich and consistent source of material and inspiration. Rise Up Singing and Rise Again also came immediately to mind for me, as they have for others in this conversation as consistent, reliable, go-to sources for songs.
Two people in particular have had the greatest impact on my work with children—Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger. They have each been an invaluable source of songs, and beyond that, a model for how to sing with children. In particular, Pete’s book, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Ella’s Smithsonian Folkways recordings have been important. They’ve both been invaluable for support and advice, and spending time with each of them has been a real treasure.
Over the years, Sarah Pirtle’s songs and books have had a steady presence in my work with children in the classroom and in my teacher
trainings, particularly her book Linking Up!.
José-Luis Orozco’s recordings and songbooks have been wonderful resources as well, in particular, his
De Colores and Other Latin-American
Folk Songs for Children. And of course, Malvina Reynolds is another songwriter I’ve gone back to again and
again from the earliest days.
Children’s books keep cropping up in people’s comments, and this is one of my special loves. I have been singing stories in one form or another for many years. I love combining the singing and the spoken voice. One of my favorite authors is Dianne de Las Casas. She was a storyteller from New Orleans with a number of books to her credit. I find her writing style lends itself easily to a tune—rhythmic, repetitive, participatory, fun, and engaging. I do her “Mama’s Bayou” with a rhythmic beat. In her Cajun Cornbread Boy, his refrain, “Run, chère, run as fast as you can/You can’t catch me I’m full of cayenne!” is really fun and easy to add a tune for children to sing along. I also love The Gigantic Sweet Potato, another book that is very interactive and has parts that easily lend themselves to a familiar tune.
Have a favorite resource to share? Email Brigid at firstname.lastname@example.org.