By Liz Buchanan
The Children’s Music Network is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, and it’s been a year of reflection and strategic planning. We’ve stepped back to evaluate our organization – who we serve, what our goals are, what we’d like to be doing in the next 25 years, and how we might gather more people to join us in that adventure.
Part of the process is considering our goals and how well we’re meeting them. One of our most important goals is to provide a networking organization for people who love making music with children. Our membership is open to anyone who values music for and with children: performers, teachers, librarians, parents and many others. It’s also a goal of CMN to provide opportunities for our members to share songs – original songs written by the many singer/songwriters in our group, and songs we hope to pass down from one generation to another. “Song swaps” have become a CMN tradition.
We’re also looking at how well we communicate what CMN stands for. We’re a very welcoming bunch; our gatherings are filled with hugs, jamming and singing in lots of musical styles, and plenty of fun and silliness. One of the best reasons I can offer to go to a CMN conference is you’re likely to laugh harder than you ever have in your whole life.
We also seek to carry forward the principles of our founders. The “About Us” section of our web page talks about our commitment to diversity, cooperation, non-violence and protecting the earth. I like to think that our work is grounded in our belief that music not only brings fun and joy to children’s lives, but has the power to change the world – to foster cooperation, creativity, and respect for the planet and our fellow human beings.
The fact is that simply singing in a group – about almost anything! trees, pigs, bubble gum – can foster cooperation, lots of laughs and a sense of community.
Personally, my own music comes down mostly in the fun and silly category – with a sly dose of “learning-tool” thrown in. Other CMN members write beautiful songs about world peace. Still others, such as Ruth Pelham, have the genius of writing truly catchy songs for kids that also grab you with a simple, important message. Example: “We’re All a Family Under One Sky.”
Now there’s something we all hope we can pass on to the next generation: People everywhere are simply people, part of the human family. We’re all in this world together, regardless of how we look, where we come from or what we believe.
Following that principle, CMN members were among those whose songs appeared on the album that won the children’s music Grammy last year, called “All About Bullies, Big and Small.” Helping kids find ways to overcome differences, learn to live with all kinds of people and resist peer pressure to pick on others: what awesome things to sing about!
After September 11, 2001, CMN got a grant from the Dodge Foundation to start a resource list of songs to help children cope with the many questions that inevitably arose following a terrorist attack on US soil. The result was the CMN Peace Resources web page, featuring songs that frame “big” issues in ways kids can understand. Children may not be able to resolve a crisis in the Middle East, but they can be peacemakers in their classrooms and neighborhoods. How cool is it to have songs that help them consider how to do that?
Several years ago, CMN created another web page with songs about the earth. To me, the name, “Environmental Resources” sounds a bit too much like a policy paper. But this song collection is filled with highly usable tunes about animals, plants, trees, seasons and weather, as well as recycling, conserving water and picking up trash.
A lot of musicians are writing great songs for children about these topics, but they aren’t always aware that CMN offers a way to catalogue all these resources in a place where teachers, fellow musicians, librarians and community song leaders can easily find them. I hope our planning process finds ways to make these resources more visible and accessible, and expands our collection to include many more of the wealth of songs out there. Maybe we can come up with a better name, that doesn’t sound so much like a policy paper.
Whatever topics you like to sing about with children, we welcome you into CMN. You are part of CMN’s core commitment to helping make children’s lives better through music. I’m hoping in our next 25 years, we’ll attract many more members from an exciting new generation of musicians – from all over the world – who share our belief that music makes a difference in children’s lives. That bears repeating: Music can make a huge difference in our kids’ lives.
I also hope there will always be people in CMN singing silly songs and making me laugh so hard I fall off my chair.