Singing New Stories
The Pass It On! Scholar Award is given each Fall to a high school senior, university, or college student selected by CMN’s Pass It On! Project Reviewers as the candidate most likely, throughout their lifetime, to continue celebrating the positive power of music in the lives of children and to recognize the importance of networking and sharing knowledge, music, ideas, and songs.
Sophia fits the description perfectly. A Massachusetts native and Emory University sophomore, she has been singing in CMN Round Robins since age ten. She was gifted the simple seed of singing by her parents, both of whom make music with children for their living and occasionally do so in family band format. Though her professional path is still unfolding, she is inspired by the teachers and creators around her—at CMN and beyond—to harness the power of music as a tool for social good.
We at CMN share a fervent belief in the power of musical narrative. We gather in Round Robins to share the stories most poignant to us—stories of friendship and courage, of history’s heroes, of the journeys of seeds and birds and magic pennies. In my years singing with CMN and in the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC), the practice of musical storytelling was accompanied by persistent and powerful follow-up questions:
Which narratives do we share?
Whose stories do we sing?
If music is such a powerful medium for translating lived experience, can’t it be used to elevate marginalized voices?
The BCC brought together an ethnically diverse group of youth to sing through a repertoire drawn from all over the world. Once we’d learned the translation of our Mexican Christmas song “Abreme La Puerta” and talked through the original coded messages in the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” those traditions were no longer foreign or unknown—we had developed cultural and historical competency through song. I discovered that, with music as a common denominator, children can come to understand and appreciate narratives that don’t exist in their own homes.
Heading into my college years and beyond, I have accepted the responsibility that offers itself to those who follow this belief to its actionable conclusion—the promise to use music as a tool for social equity. I want to take the issues that are thought of as too big or too political for children and find a way to approach them with music, from a foundation of empathy and shared language. I believe we wildly underestimate the level of nuance and maturity children develop to discuss unfamiliar topics, especially when such conversations take the form of song. In performance with my father, Philip Alexander, we’ve introduced audiences to Spanish language and food with simple song and dance. I have seen how strophic narratives like Sally Rogers’s “What Can One Little Person Do?” and revived Civil Rights-era anthems, like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round,” can both engage children in historical discussion and empower them to carry on the legacy of the heroes in their songs. I aim to do the same work around issues of marriage equality, gender identity, and environmental action. I want to find and write songs that connect listeners to these concepts on the level of emotion rather than intellect, so children practice speaking and singing from a place of empathy.
While my professional musical interests are growing and changing, I know that in any subfield—be it ethnomusicology, composition, or music therapy—I will be driven by the basic belief that music can and should work as a catalyst for social change. I will use the common language of song to share stories of the other because once children have sung a story, it isn’t quite so “other” to them anymore.