By Eve Kodiak
I was driving around in circles, trying to find the way in to the big school that housed the Children’s Music Network Annual New England Gathering, and a woman rolled down her window and called out, “You park in the back!” She knew who I was and what I needed without asking.
The whole day was like that. The Children’s Music Network Annual New England Gathering seems to be a time when old friends get together to share songs and catch up on their lives. Except that the definition of “old friend” is anyone who shows up at the door.
I have never received a more ebullient introduction than I did from gathering organizer Tina Stone. And I really enjoyed my presentation on incorporating primitive reflex movements into children’s music. It was probably the most free-form talk I’ve ever given, organized largely around people’s questions – which allowed me to get into some new territory.
For example, Deborah Stuart of VSA New Hampshire asked about how to work with special needs students with low tone. So I was able to talk about how important “belly time” is for building tone, because when babies are on their bellies, they have to pull up against gravity. This is the way the core muscles get strengthened, and we eventually build up to locomotion. But if you can’t get your students on their bellies, there are other ways to create that tone-building resistance. Pushing against a wall, or another’s hands – or other parts of the body!
A volunteer helped me demo of Row, Row, Row Your Boat with partners. Here’s how: Sit on the floor, legs outstretched, feet together. Hold hands. Sing and “row the boat” back and forth to the beat. You can vary the movement by crossing arms, or pulling on one side, then the other.
But the most fun part for me was not my own presentation – it was being a kid in somebody else’s music class. CMN is so wonderfully low-tech – we forget the power of simply singing and playing games. I felt connected back to origins of the human race – these are the kinds of things we have been doing since we lived in trees.
I got to stand in a circle game about a boat and the tide rolling high. I got to play with stuffed vegetables and sing about making a sandwich. I got to dance to all world music, from Israeli to Cuban to Celtic. I got to ask questions and participate in some really interesting conversations.
I was excited to meet Joanne Hammil, whose first album “Pizza Boogie,” was my son’s favorite when he was seven. Joanne told me about an intergenerational chorus she directs in Watertown, MA. There are no auditions. “What do you do when people can’t carry a tune?” asked my neighbor at the lunch table, a CMN member who plans to join the chorus in the fall. Joanne said that so many of the singers were fabulous musicians that the group got carried along. “I have little solos in some songs, and anyone can volunteer for them,” she said. “It’s a challenge, sometimes, but I do my own arrangements and I make it work.”
That democratic feeling – that everyone, regardless of experience, has a right to participate fully in music – is a big part of CMN. It is never more evident than in the last event of the day, a “round robin” in which anyone can sign up to sing a song.
There is something very beautiful about just sitting and listening to people sing for you. Performers all have egos – it’s part of the job requirement. But somehow, here, the personal ego seemed softened, even as each performer walked up to the mic. Each person was a thread in a fabric of song and community, and we all knew it.
We ended by singing Circle of Life. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful day, and the lasting feel of friendship.
Eve Kodiak will be offering a workshop at CMN’s International Conference in Zion, Illinois on October 12-14, 2012.