“Start every day with a song; add a smile and it won’t be long ’til people around you are singing and smiling along, smiling along.” (Elizabeth Gilpatrick, “Start Every Day with a Song”)
This is the text to the first song I have been teaching all my children – it is simple but important, and easy to learn. Once they know these words, we sing it in a round, which means that one group of singers starts the song, and then later another group begins while the first continues, and consecutive groups enter until there are three or four groups all singing together.
I start the choirs with a song like this because it begins immediately to establish several important skills for good singing. The first is that it requires singers to sing an independent line while other things are happening. At first, they struggle to cling what they are supposed to be singing and feel pulled to sing a different line, or forget the line altogether. After some time, however, they learn to stay strong with their line and sing out to be heard. The second skill is listening. Each group of singers carries an independent line, but a choir is first and foremost and ensemble, a collection of musicians striving working together intimately to produce a unified piece of art. For my young singers, listening means, “You have to wait until they sing ‘song’ for 3 beats before you come in!” and “While you are singing ‘long,’ the second group is singing ‘smile and it,’ so you have to listen and wait for them to finish before you go on!”
These skills, among others, are vital for good choral singing. One of the beautiful things about music, however, is that these skills are equally, if not more, useful outside of the rehearsal. In fact, the development of successful students and citizens absolutely depends on their ability to express themselves confidently and listen actively to others. Art, of course, can be good for its own sake, but the ultimate objective of a musical education is to cultivate skills (like singing independently and active listening) that can be transferred and applied in everyday life. After all, we live our lives in ensemble – making deals at the market, sharing responsibilities at home and at work, making compromises and sacrifices to meet our own needs and the needs of others. This means that an education in collaboration cannot be secondary to an education in maths or writing – rather, music inspires and develops tools that are imperative for a responsible and constructive citizenry.
In my time with Child’s Play India Foundation so far, I have been incredibly lucky to work with students and families who are eager and excited to learn. It is a luxury and inspiration to teach young musicians who grin always, who are bold and adventurous, and above all bring a relentless sense of joy to learning music. I find new testaments to this every day – in persistent and energized piano students (and their equally persistent parents!) and in the 48 students who showed up to sing at the first rehearsal in Santa Cruz. It is also an enormous pleasure to be counted colleague among the accomplished and ambitious staff of musician-teachers at Child’s Play India Foundation. I have been overjoyed to be in ensemble with them and continue to learn, always, as we all play and teach together. Music lives to be played, and playing with Camerata informs and expands my capacity as a citizen-artist.
With all the grace this first month (has it really been a month, already?) has afforded, I can’t help but overflow with optimism for the coming months. Let the adventure continue!
I can’t, in good conscience, conclude without a selfie – so here’s one from the Hamara School!