One week ago, I headed to Vermont to visit family. The snowflakes had started to fall, changing the course of our carefully laid out plans. It was on this drive that I started thinking about the random events that make up our lives as well as the infinite pathways generated as a result. It turned out that our van was ill-equipped to handle the roads of Stratton and consequently we spent more time inside versus exploring the mountainside. Fortunately, being stranded by the snow is more interesting with a keyboard and guitar to fill the hours. Children’s music seems to travel with me everywhere.
Five little snowflakes falling from the sky
One in particular caught my eye
I try to catch it before it lands
But the little snowflake
Turns to water in my hands
Repeat with four, three, and two snowflakes
One little snowflake falling from the sky
It in particular caught my eye
I try to catch it before it lands
But the last snowflake
Well it’s frozen in my hands
I wrote the preceding lyrics about ten years ago to sing with 3-5 year old children at the local preschool. In building my repertoire of finger plays I had taken familiar tunes and crafted songs to reflect the current season or the curricular units of the individual classrooms. The teachers of the oldest students were working with the five senses as well as exploring changes of state between ice and water.
The song has several hooks for my students. At the start of each verse I watch each child look up, focus on a single spot, and point to the imaginary location. I enjoy the cadence as we sing the word “particular”. It is adorable to see the little fingers move from the open air to tap their eye three times. The children all have different ways they will make the catch. Some cup their hands. Some reach out quickly and grab. Others stretch out their arms as if ready to hug a parent at the end of the day. Finally, the children feel each snowflake as if it is real and react accordingly. This short song has been a mainstay of winter ever since.
But ever since I started singing “Five Little Snowflakes”, I wanted to change the tune from its borrowed melody to something original. It’s hard to find time to play around with something that already works. Teachers, songwriters, parents . . . all of us . . . encounter this dilemma often. We usually put this kind of project on the back burner. This holiday week, under a blanket of new snow, I was determined to take the song off the shelf and give it an updated tune. The process has been a lot of fun and hopefully beneficial to others who would like to try their hand at something similar.
Full disclosure: I am starting a new column in 2018 called Teacher Feature Friday. I know – in this case I didn’t post until Sunday but I started the project on a Friday so maybe that counts. I look forward to highlighting best practices and processes of our CMN teachers in the new year. Now back to my story:
In the dining room at my sister-in-law’s house, Luke sits at the table with his electronic keyboard. I have challenged him to come up with 5 different melodies. I sit next to him with my guitar. We change the key signature. He changes the instrument settings. He sets the tempo and adds different beats. Some of our renditions are absurd. Some are funky. Some are too slow. We record different versions and video tape them from different angles. Perhaps one of these melodies will gain traction.
Fast forward and we are spending the final days of the year with our friends, fellow educators from New York City. We have rented a house near Cape Cod where we watch movies, talk education, and play games. Luke, José and I always make time to jam. José and Luke have a special relationship. José makes us all laugh with a combination of wit, timing and devotion to people of all ages. Luke responds to José like no one else and he loves to show off what he can do on the piano. It was a perfect opportunity to give the song another try.
José makes Luke feel like a rock star by treating him like one of his high school students. José asks Luke to reflect on the symbolism of the snowflakes and the diversity that each one represents. How does each crystal feel about being caught? Is it not tragic that they melt? Is this a sad song or do we revel in the metamorphosis of the snowflake and celebrate the water being set free? Luke laughs and starts the beat. José focuses on the last phrase and is in a zone. “Frozen in my hands . . . Frozen in my hands . . . Frozen in my hands.” Luke is amused and finds the bass accompaniment. We have found the basic melody in the key of F#.
I marvel at the gifts that each one of us bring to this simple project. I am reminded that the possibilities are endless. I am blessed to be surrounded by a canvas of unique snowflakes that collectively change the world for the better. I have fun with the process. I look forward to bringing back these new versions of “Five Little Snowflakes” to the classroom for further exploration.
José De Jesús is the Upper School Division Head at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights, NY
Luke Seston is a 9 year old 3rd grade boy with a big smile.
Editors Note: While I was writing the text for this blog, Jose and Luke continued their collaboration by writing a new song “Popcorn Pigeons”. We’ll save that story for another time.