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Music’s Joyous Potential

“Music produces a kind of pleasure that human nature cannot do without.”
—   Confucius

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the famous Polish rabbi who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, "First we sing, then we understand.” I was thinking of his words while I watched a YouTube video a grandmother shared with me of her kindergarten-age grandson singing his own original composition: “Spread your wings, spread your heart, that’s how we spread joy now.” His delightful song, which goes on for several minutes, expresses his full and exuberant understanding of the values he hears about every day in his kindergarten class. He composed this music as a surprise gift for his mom.

Students at the White Pony and Meher School sing songs that express our values starting in preschool and continuing throughout elementary school, and adult alumni report they feel comforted by singing them as they venture out into the world.

Beginnng in preschool, they also enjoy making music and performing for others. In elementary school, students not only sing in class but have the chance to join one of our school choruses. In this season of gift giving, what could be a better present for a parent or grandparent than a film of a child joyfully singing a song that they love or one they have composed? We often frame children’s paintings and display them in our homes, and today technology allows us to save their musical expressions and share them with others.

This holiday season, music at all the school parties and performances can remind us of the powerful potential for music to take us out of our worries and amplify gratitude and joy in our lives.

Music can be a central part of family life. Before radio and television provided entertainment, families often made a habit of making music as a satisfying pastime. Here are some ideas:

Use music to change a mood. If a child doesn’t want to get out of bed or clean up a mess, make up a song about it. “It’s so hard to get up in the morning.”

Encourage musical improvisation. A little girl was picking up golden leaves in the yard. I said,  “Why don't you sing a song about it?” She immediately burst into joyful melody and dance, and her friend eagerly joined in.

Make a playlist of family favorites. What are the songs you like to sing as a family while riding in the car or cleaning up after a meal? Writing down your family “hits” brings a sense of cohesion. Everyone gets a vote.

Create a song to help young children get ready for a family event. Music can help us prepare for new experiences more easily than words.  “Grandma and Grandpa are coming to stay, stay, stay.”

Let’s recognize children’s ability to feel joy through music, a capacity that can last throughout their lives.


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