Resources for Renewal
One of the pleasures of being part of the Children’s Music Network is the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the free-wheeling, enlightening conversations that erupt between members, by accident or design, in person, via the listserv or by e-mail. The idea for this compilation, in fact, presented itself over a year ago, during e-mail exchanges with Ted Warmbrand. After I met Ted at the 2015 Zion gathering, we kept in touch, spinning stories, sharing philosophies, polishing lyrics, and examining the roots and backstories of songs. During one of our exchanges, I asked Ted, “What one or two resources have made an enduring impact on you as a musician/teacher/thinker/communicator and continue to inspire and sustain you?” His answer confirmed for me, yet again, that our members’ knowledge and life experiences are indeed our greatest treasure—and inspired this feature. With one exception, those who were invited in this inaugural compilation are authors who contributed feature articles to PIO! since I assumed editorship. I hope to continue compiling and sharing responses from our membership, as renewal is integral to our spiritual and intellectual life.
Resources are organized in the order they were received to preserve exchanges that sometimes occurred between contributors. The list begins and ends with Ted Warmbrand.
For songs, I like to check into the out-of-print Nearly Complete Woody Guthrie Songbook. His clarity and composure inspire me, and I believe his children's songs are some of his best creations. Simple but not simplistic. And from the child’s view. I’m never disappointed by collections of African American songs with their sharp lyric skill, alliteration, and rhythmic variety. They continue to amaze. From more contemporary times Guy and Candie Carawan's Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, the combined edition of We Shall Overcome and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, floats my boat. Pete Seeger's “Where Have All
the Flowers Gone?” offers his uncanny ability to focus a lyric, his generous spirit and sense of singable melodic and rhythmic adventure beyond what reasonable folks could expect. And I also gain strength from all the Lomax American folksong collections.
A song that insinuates itself into your being, that wants to be sung, whose melody understands your feelings and whose words don't dominate but go hand in hand with that tune as if from one’s heart, conflicted or not, is a helluva great gift to pull from the grab bag of life.
The most important written resource in my life has been the book The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. I first read it when I was very young. The bull’s preference for stretching beneath a cork tree rather than risking his life for someone else’s profit/entertainment made perfect sense when I was little. Still does. It has informed my art and work and behavior. The pen-and-ink illustrations still knock me out; I remember being so impressed by Ferdinand’s musculature—that was one cut bull. I love his understanding mother. I love the perfectly reasonable tone of the narrative: “Well, if you were a bumblebee and a bull sat on you what would you do?” His sit-down strike in the arena (“He just sat and smelled”) was Passive Resistance 101 for me.
I see Ferdinand the book was banned by Franco and burned by Hitler. Not bad!
Oh, my. I had The Story of Ferdinand memorized before I could read. I knew where to turn the pages so it looked like I was reading it. In my mind’s eye I can still see that drawing of the bull’s hind end and the bee on the clover.
I’d like to put in a word for Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes. It’s chock full of singing games, but the value, I think, lies in the explanation of the function of singing games in Southern Black culture (this can be extended to other cultures) in children’s learning who they are and how they fit in the community.
Bess Lomax Hawes gave a great talk at one of the early CMN gatherings at Petaluma, and later I read her book, Sing It Pretty: A Memoir, which I highly recommend. Bess came from a family of folklorists and took off in her own direction as singer, activist, mother. She was in on some pretty amazing stuff and describes it all with engaging humor. So that’s my two out of many shelves and piles of books.
When you put out the call I can hardly stop myself from responding. I am very impressionable and found lots of inspiration wherever I could. The Little Engine That Could seemed to nip at my toes (and appeared more able and committed than I). As a grown-up, I liked The Bear That Wasn’t. Stop me!
As a Bronx boy in the concrete jungle, I loved my record of Gene Autry cowboy songs and the promise of wide-open spaces—the opposite of a future in the garment district where my dad made a living. But then I’ll never forget the great Churkendoose with Ray Bolger narrating. Does anyone remember that musical lesson in oddness and acceptance?
The source that influenced me more than any other is an old folk tale that I learned by the name “The Horse.” I have since discovered that it has other names as well. The story's premise is that we needn't judge events as good or bad, because what often looks good can lead to bad and what looks bad often leads to good. It was told to me when I was around twenty, by a Holocaust survivor in Israel named Re'uma, a name she gave herself after the war. Her name means "look at the wonder."
The story literally changed my life and helped me be able to keep perspective about personal and world events in a way that I might not have been able to do quite so readily had I not heard the story at that point in my life. I never saw the story printed until I wrote a song using the story and went in search to see if it actually was a folktale or if Re'uma had made it up. I discovered there is a version of the story in the children's book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth and in the picture book The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folktale by Ed Young, in addition to many online retellings.
It is truly a concept that I think of nearly every moment of the day. I use this song regularly in my work with audiences of all ages starting from kindergarten-aged children. A recording of the song can be found here.
© Joanie Calem 2004
Long ago and far away lived a simple, modest man,
He owned a great, strong stallion, the prettiest in the land.
All his neighbors envied him, thought he must be blessed,
But he was wise enough to know to wait and see what’s next.
One day that horse took off, just up and ran away.
The only thing he owned disappeared that day.
All his neighbors pitied him, thought he might be cursed,
But he was wise enough to know it might be the reverse.
‘Cause sometimes a blessing is a curse in disguise
Sometimes the curse changes right before our eyes
Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing?
Gotta wait and see what life will bring.
Well, soon his horse came back, with a herd of wild mares
Now his paddock was full, there were horses everywhere.
All his neighbors envied him, thought he might be blessed,
But he was wise enough to know to wait and see what’s next.
His son was a brave, young man, and wanted to tame a wild horse
But the horse threw him off, and he broke both legs of course.
All the neighbors pitied them, thought they might be cursed,
But they were wise enough to know it might be the reverse.
The very next day, the king declared a war
All young men must go to fight, his son was just one more.
All the neighbors pitied them, thought they might be cursed,
But they were wise enough to know it might be the reverse.
Well, because of those broken legs, his son couldn’t go to fight,
All that pain and agony probably saved his life.
All the neighbors envied them, thought they must be blessed,
But they were wise enough to know to wait and see what’s next.
I loved The Family of Man, the book of photos from the 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibition by Edward Steichen. Still available from online used book sources, this collection was an object of endless curiosity and source of comfort to me as a young child. I no longer have the book, but so many of those images remain vivid to me, and I now imagine that they were incomparable lessons in empathy.
A bit later, as a teen working on a complicated sewing project for 4H, I spent many hours listening to Freedom Summer reports on Pacifica Radio in 1964. That’s when I heard the Freedom Singers. Their voices remain indelible—so fierce! So beautiful! So painful! So righteous! I was stunned. Though my family and our conservative Southern California suburban culture mostly ignored or disdained news of the Civil Rights Movement, these songs were a magnet that drew me to so much important history and music. I’m so grateful to Guy and Candie Carawan and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for publishing these songs. I still have my precious and dilapidated fifty-year-old copy of the original collection (Sing for Freedom, also available as a CD).
I loved that book, Bonnie. Thanks for bringing it back to attention. Brigid has raised a terrific question.
In a fundraising support e-mail that I sent this past June, I pointed out what an enormous resource that CMN has been to me. I haven’t missed a conference since I started attending in ’93 because it is always such a bountiful weekend. After every conference and regional gathering, several more songs are added to my repertoire. I got to wondering how many that added up to and came up with about 200 songs! Many of these are integral to a score of my programs. For example, the songs in my kitbag from which I draw for my “Nature in Action, Story and Song” programs are written by over thirty CMN members. Many other shows are built around the songs of dozens more CMN songwriters. I am enormously inspired by and indebted to the CMN community.
I was raised on very little children’s music. Very little music in general, actually. The Singing Nun, Danny Kaye, a little Pete Seeger on these old thick LPs. I never thought much about children’s music either until I began singing with and for kids about thirty years ago. My image in some way of this music was sort of sappy: good songs about good things to think about in good ways to make good people. And some silly stuff, too.
Around that time, though, I discovered Shel Silverstein. He’d never been on my radar before. The subversive ideas and humor and cleverness and not always so good children’s perspective opened up a mischievous and clear-eyed view that I am still amazed by today. I just love picking up A Light in the Attic or Where the Sidewalk Ends and reading.
Anyone wanting to create good material for children needs to immerse themself in Shel Silverstein. He’s always good, funny, and speaking to deeper truths as well. I’m not in his style or vein of creativity, but I often wish I was.
Though I have read many books, I find that I don't retain a lot of content to apply to my work. I retain more that guides me from what I hear—a presentation, a recording, or a sharing of songs. In that respect, I would have to say that becoming a member of CMN has had the greatest impact on me as a musician, teacher, and presenter. Whether it's a workshop at a gathering or songs shared at round robins and song swaps—and the commentary that goes with them—or a discussion on the listserv, CMN has certainly been a guiding force as my "little music classes" turned into twenty-seven years of making music with children and those who care for them. Were I to start to make a list of individuals who have contributed, it would be long. I am so lucky that Tom Pease and Stuart Stotts relentlessly twisted my arm at an annual early childhood conference in Wisconsin to "take a look at CMN—you may like it." They were so right!
Family memories greatly influence my work. Earliest is my mother's rocking and chanting ad nauseam, “Ah-Ah Bay-ay bee.” While she and my aunt sang “Que Sera, Sera,” my sister and I carried on the tradition of performing it at every family event, along with “Tonight You Belong to Me.” Visions of duets at the piano and dancing to show tunes cemented my future. And Dad, who taught me to “make ’em laugh” and the art of costuming me into a crazy, mixed-up Mordecai.
Now I’m a grandmother singing ad nauseam, marking every possible occasion, while asking conference attendees their first memory of being sung to. Many beam as they recall. A young teacher came to me, tears streaming down her cheeks. I thought, what a beautiful memory she must have. But…she had none. It never occurred to me that not everyone was sung to.
Decades pass with the essence of my life’s work passing down traditional folk music and nurturing relationships. In the sprit of family and making music together, my treasured resource, Bev Bos, appears. When I am challenged, I often ask myself, what would Bev do? From Bev I learned the greatest lessons: how to be a teacher and how to honor childhood.
A sampling of Bev’s books include Before the Basics, Together We’re Better, and Don’t Move the Muffin Tins. CDs are harder to find, but ferreting them out is well worth it. Many of the CDs are with Tom Hunter: We’ve Been Waiting for You, Memories, I’ll Tell you a Story, Come On Over, and Hand in Hand.
~Editor’s note: Because of her close relationship with Tom Hunter, Bev Bos acted as Keynote for CMN’s 2014 International Conference when Tom was posthumously honored with the Magic Penny award. Two of Tom’s songs can be found in the #75, the Fall 2013 issue of PIO!: “We’ve Been Waiting for You,” and “May the Work We Do.”
The resources listed below are the ones I seem to go back to time and again and also share with my students, who are primarily classroom teachers. I find these to all be accessible to those with and without musical background.
1. Step It Down by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes
I had the privilege of taking a weeklong workshop with Bessie Jones and experienced how all of her material emphasizes cooperation and sharing. This is perfect to use with children and provides a good background of African American music. Each song or game includes instructions, background notes, lyrics, and music.
2. For the Ancestors (1983) by Bessie Jones. This is still available on Amazon and, I believe, is an essential partner to Step It Down. In For the Ancestors, Bessie explains much more about the history of the songs and games. One chapter in particular, “More Than Games,” I use the most, because it provides vivid details about why the games were sung, and how they were done. I find myself reading from the book to capture not only Bessie’s story but her words.
3. The Thinking Ear (1986) and A Sound Education (1992), both by R. Murray Schafer.
4. Roots and Branches (1994) by Patricia Shehan Campbell, Ellen McCullough-Brabson, and Judith Cook Tucker. The book includes a CD and excellent notes and story behind each song. There are seven sections: Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America. This is an excellent resource which I find myself returning to often.
~Editor’s note: An interview with Judith Cook Tucker appeared in last fall’s PIO! as a “from the archives” feature.
5. New England Dancing Masters books: Down in the Valley and Jump Jim Joe (now Rise Sally Rise) by Peter and Mary Alice Amidon. I use these two books a great deal. They both provide many great singing games for children and include a good explanation of the game as well as notation and lyrics.
Pocket songbooks. These 3-3/4" by 6-3/4” paperback booklets, published by Cooperative Recreation Service (CRS) from the 1930s into the 1960s, were compilations of songs from world cultures and folk traditions. Their sturdy, unfussy format suggested that singing happens everywhere—at the campfire, on the road, in the fields—and takes place at all times—in the morning, at night, before meals, during work. Pocket songbooks introduced us to languages we hadn’t heard before. For ten cents a book, you could learn songs from Trinidad or prayers for peace from a pocket-sized tome that fit perfectly into the palm of your hand.
CRS collaborated with song leaders from 4-H Clubs, YMCAs, scout groups, and summer camps to custom design songbooks for youth organizations. By publishing their gathered melodies, CRS supported youth song leaders as collectors in the Lomax tradition and validated their far-flung travels in search of songs. A service organization for musicians and youth groups alike, CRS honored copyright protections and helped establish group singing as an integral, accessible part of the American recreation movement. Could CRS have helped pave a way for CMN? Almost assuredly so. And thanks to World Around Songs, many of the original pocket songbooks are still in print.
The work of Canadian composer and pedagogue R. Murray Schafer changed the way I think about sound and music. His book The Tuning of the World is loaded with all sorts of mind-bending and thought-provoking projects and ideas. Schafer coined the terms “soundscape” and “acoustic ecology.” He uses graphic notation in his compositions and often uses found sounds and environmental sounds.
“Today all sounds belong to a continuous field of possibilities lying within the comprehensive dominion of music. Behold the new orchestra: the sonic universe! And the musicians: anyone and anything that sounds!” (Schafer 1993). His concern for the preservation of the quiet corners of our lives is worthy of a Nobel Prize. His fear is that without our conscious effort, noise pollution will overtake the quiet corners we need in order to think clearly and relax fully. He says,
The soundscape of the world is changing. Modern man is beginning to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any he has hitherto known. These new sounds, which differ in quality and intensity from those of the past, have alerted many researchers to the dangers of an indiscriminate and imperialistic spread of more and larger sounds into every corner of man’s life. Noise pollution is now a world problem. It would seem that the world soundscape has reached an apex of vulgarity in our time, and many experts have predicted universal deafness as the ultimate consequence unless the problem can be brought quickly under control (Schafer 1993)
I take his teaching into my classroom, even with the smallest learners who can graphically notate a sound composition and can create instruments out of anything that makes sound. And he also has reinforced for me our innate need for silence in our lives. Our students need to discover what it is to be truly quiet so they can hear their own thoughts.
How exciting to hear these responses! Am I out of bounds to find myself in search of something even most elusive, that is, the inspiration for making children’s music itself? And is it too much to expect artists to understand their own creative process? Probably. Especially for the geniuses among us. While Joanie Calem opens that window a bit with a specific example, how much more are we able to understand how these inspirations affected our work? I think of Malvina Reynolds’s great song, “The Little Red Hen.” Taking a tale children should know and modeling its retelling. But tell me, how close can we come to understanding our aesthetics as well as our intentions? Our musical and lyric vocabulary? My influences range from hearing my parents sing around the house to Hebrew School choir, to public school exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan and MAD magazine parodies. There were union songs in summer camp, the Weavers albums and their invitation to explore traditional folk music from peoples all over the planet. The classical music of European masters from centuries past had their roles, as did the Broadway musical, the “vanilla” tunes of the 1950s and the “chocolate” grit that infused it as time went on. It still may be our greatest gift to face and embrace our limitations, for therein is our unique and personal style. And from that others learn who we are. And hopefully helps them know who they are. Who could ask for anything more?