Waltzing Matilda

Sometime in the last few weeks of school my tenth year of teaching, I was complimented by a dear friend while stopping by the front office. I had known her a decade as a colleague and friend, but until that year, she didn’t know I love to sing. Several hundred kids in the building have had me serenade them over cleaning the floor, transitioning to new activities, and for moments of stress relief. I realized that most of the adults I work with don’t know that part of me.

At that moment I started to think about all those places where my different lives intersect. I wear so many hats in the course of one day. I am a mother, a wife, a professional, and an artist. These are the most prominent of my roles. Of all the parts of my personality that have persisted since childhood, being a singer has enriched my educational life deeply. I say that confidently. It is a thread that runs through every chapter of my life. As a kid, I learned to read music and learned work with an instrumental ensemble early.  I was never on fire for the clarinet, so in high school, I started singing in choirs. I participated in a jazz choir and a chamber choir, and in college, I helped establish a student -directed a cappella group that, 25 years later, is still producing amazing music as it evolves.

We started as a group of kids who just loved to sing and when we were on, we sounded pretty damn good together. Our group coalesced through experiences of rehearsing and performing together, over disagreeing with each other, and by harmonizing with each other. We were the first to prove the campus was bursting with musical talent, as two more a capella groups were created in our wake. It is an incredible thing to go back to a Room 46 concert after 25 years and meet the new kids: to know that they will always have these powerful memories of performing and how that one decision we made as youngsters, to participate in a group in creating something out of nothing, has changed hundreds of lives since. I can’t help but want to share that in some way with my students.

Even if you don’t have an angelic voice, you can encourage kids to sing together. It’s a great way to transition them to something new or be silly for a moment. Song can sooth them after an active recess. Instead of bells and buzzers, we use music to transition kids to new class periods at my school. We welcome them in the door in the morning with a song. I feel less like Pavlov running a kennel and more like a human being teaching other human beings about all the amazing things human beings can do; it’s a stroke of genius.

Likewise, working on a common purpose, like learning to play music as an ensemble, brings out amazing qualities of cooperation and cohesiveness in a group. My favorite moment from last school year was attending an informal handbells performance. My 20 students, who normally barely went 10 minutes without challenging each other’s ideas, didn’t argue or incite each other for an entire hour. It was the most wonderful example of synergy I witnessed with this group of kids all year.  Handbells, of all things.

Music is so easy to incorporate into a classroom these days thanks to technology. If you want your kids to remember their multiplication tables or learn the structures and functions of cells, or the order of operations, go find those things on the internet and play them. Want to motivate your students to complete a project, reward their diligence with a DJ day,  when they can suggest music to play while working or during a break.

A word to the wise, always, always, ALWAYS preview the music suggestions before playing them for a class. (I’ve been duped before).

As I get ready to go back to school in a mere two weeks, I’m preparing lots of things. I have a new literature I want to introduce, a revised structure for my math class, exciting new technology for myself and my students to master and incorporate.  I’m listening to plenty of new music and seeking out new artists so I can share that part of our culture with my kids. I am also warming up the pipes and dusting off the classic tunes when I’m in the car or doing dishes because, surprisingly, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ continues to be a big hit with the kids.

Below are two related blogs that I enjoyed while musing over this post today.  I offer them to you, in case you are also on summer break and looking for some harmony. Enjoy!



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