introducing kids to music {a podcast follow-up}

You know those people who give you a chance even though they haven’t seen you since you were 19-and-something-of-an-idiot?  Cintia is one of them for me, and I like her.  Social media reconnections are boss.

Cintia and I had a conversation today about introducing your kids to music, and it streamed live on YouTube.  If you didn’t see it live, boy did you miss out!  I’m pretty sure she’s already edited out the part where my dog peed on the chair behind me.  Regardless, you can check it out here.  I apologize for the poor sound quality on my end.  I didn’t realize my webcam mic was so bad.


Anyway, I had a few more thoughts after we finished chatting…

On simple ways that parents can introduce music to children:

  • Put a CD player in the bedroom that the child can operate.  It’s better than an iPod at younger ages, and the concrete experience of getting a new CD (even if it’s one you burned from your iTunes) is thrilling for them.
  • Take the kids to as many concerts as possible!  Duh.
  • Keep an eye out for musical toys that don’t do all the work for your child.  If you push one button to hear a song, that’s not really learning anything.
  • Take out your earbuds, Momma.  Play it for everybody!

On children’s ability to sing:

  • Don’t ever tell a child she has a terrible voice or “can’t sing.”  Most parents aren’t that accurate in judging their own abilities, anyway.  The point isn’t always to be the best.  It’s to enjoy.  And, by the way, if we judged how great a cook you were going to be based on your mudpies…
  • The more they sing, the better they sing.  This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  If you make your child sing 6 hrs a day, they are not guaranteed to sell more records than Whitney.  But, singing is the ability to recall and make your body reproduce what you recall.  It’s imitation, and it usually becomes more accurate with more attempts.

On tips for parent-guided interactive musical play:

  • Use your sing-song voice to give instructions.  (Think of the “nanna nanna boo boo” tune and sing “Run and get your shoes on!”)  Betcha the child sings back to you.
  • Be a broken record.  That may go against lots of parenting book advice, but I’m not thinking of nagging.  I’m thinking of the way we have said “I_____ love_____ youuuuu!” thousands of times to my children in the same rising-rising-falling tones.  My youngest began filling in the final high-pitched “youuuu” long before he was really talking.  That’s musical.
  • Get silly.  If you can possibly muster up just a little bit of leftover magic dust from deep in your feet, shake it back out and make up a song about what you’re doing right now.  Or, even better, when your child is doing this (magically unprompted!) join in.  Add to the song.  When you get stuck, just repeat stuff you already sang.  It’s like… magic.
  • Pay someone to teach you how.  Music Together, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, and the Learning Groove are music teacher-led classes that involve both parent and child.

On the benefits of introducing music to kids:

  • Letting music be part of our lives connects us to the human experience throughout time.  There has never existed a culture that didn’t have music.  In my opinion, it’s a gift given to us through which we were all meant to worship.  It’s so unfortunate that our competition-driven culture has relegated music to “the experts.”

PS – I don’t have a dog.


how to get folks talking for no reason

I leave the high school chorus room and head straight out into the parking lot, blazer on one arm, clear party glass full of bubbly, golden beverage in my hand. I’m singing to myself, like I do far too often. I stumble in my heels and slosh said beverage all over said blazer.  I try to play it off and keep heading for my car.

Black High HeelsOh, hello couple in the truck 25 feet in front of me probably waiting for your grandson to come out of the locker room.  Thanks for staring. 

Never mind that it was white grape juice and ginger ale for a party to celebrate a retiree.  Never mind that the parking lot is full of rocks, and my middle name isn’t Grace. Never mind that no group of teachers in their right mind would drink on campus.  (Don’t Google that, readers.  You’ll find reports of teachers drinking on the job, and I’ll remind you that they weren’t in their right minds.)

I can tell, sweet couple, by the look on your faces that you think I’m actually that stupid.

Ah, well.

remember3More importantly, it’s a pretty amazing thing to celebrate someone who has served students for 30 years.  Congratulations, Mr. Don Greene… Teacher of 3rd Grade Me, Elementary Choir Genius, Rhythm & Staff Reading Taskmaster, and Encourager of Many.  May you spend all summer in your garden of Eden (I mean, yard) without a single sunburn, and may you never, ever again have to write a lesson plan in yet another new format.

about a guy named loonis


As the credits were rolling on one of my children’s DVDs today, I began laughing so hard that the kids followed me down the hall asking, “Mommy!  What’s funny?”

Loonis McGlohon.  That’s what.loonis2CD

In junior high, my one-of-a-kind, they-don’t-make-’em-like-that-anymore principal gave the most glowing introduction I can remember for a performing artist at our annual Fine Arts Festival.  My principal was passionate about the arts, and he was passionate about the difference between artists and entertainers, too.  As a young pianist, I was riveted — especially when he slammed Elvis.  Old school, y’all.

He told us all about Mr. McGlohon’s accomplishments as a jazz pianist and composer and how he was a gem belonging to the state of North Carolina.  I did a good 30 minutes of research tonight, and yeah – he was awesome.  Played with Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra and lots of greats most of us have never heard of.  You know, I don’t even think Mr. McGlohon was at the festival that year, but I think he and my principal were buds or something, so we got to hear a speech about why he had to cancel.

Anyway, here I am 20 years later, and who has composed the original music for “It’s Potty Time”?  Yup.  And if you’re a Dave Letterman fan, you might already know this one:

How great is it to know that someone successful enough to have a really, really beautiful theater named after them would be willing to write songs to tell my son how to pee?!  I laughed really hard at first, because of course, the whole video long I’m wondering:  Who had to write this?!  Were they not cracking up the entire time?! And whyyyy are they so catchy?  So yeah, the irony of a celebrated composer sitting in that [potty] chair really made me grin.

Without a drop of sarcasm I tell you: I am even more a fan of Loonis than ever before.  Thanks, Loonis.  You rocked.  And may your works have great impact on my children.

how hawaii inspired me to get it in gear

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like to blast it all over social media when I’m leaving the continent for a week. This is where I was:

sunsetYou can see why I wasn’t blogging, too.

My aunt and I were talking about that phrase, “It’s good to go, and it’s good to come home.”  She said my grandmother used to say that it’s pretty sad if you didn’t feel that way.  I heartily concur, and it gave me extra incentive to work at that thing on the front of my brain: getting this house in shape.  Just because I’m not staying in a multi-million dollar beachfront rental house in Kailua doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the luxuries of clean, well-planned, and comfortable.  (Ahem. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the the lodging.)

Today I ordered this from Amazon to assist me in my epic battle with the clutter.  Yes, epic.  I know that word is overused, but my imagination tells me my battle’s worse than yours.speakerThe masseuse had one of these things going last week, and I was really impressed with the sound quality when I saw how tiny it is.  (Ahem. Thanks, Rachel, for the massage.) I thought, “You mean I can plug my phone into that instead of carrying around a drinking glass as a natural amplifier?  This will be the final push I need to show overflowing closets who’s boss.”

I really did think that. However, I am now in more of a right mind about my reasons for purchasing it.  Massages make me over-the-top silly, but now I’m remembering that I’ve purchased magazines, shelving, books, containers, binders, web applications, and likely things I can’t even recall all in the hope of organization.  Now I remember that you can’t buy your way into organized.  You have to work your way through it every day.

Here are a few songs of the songs I’ve lined up to power me through my work today:

  • Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd (blues rock, YES!)
  • Sir Duke  – Stevie Wonder (no dancing = no pulse)
  • Bust A Move  – Young MC (that bass line, y’all)
  • Your Love Is Strong – Jon Foreman (just everything)
  • Give It Up or Let Me Go – Dixie Chicks (even my 4yo appreciates this mastery of jam)
  • When the Saints – Sara Groves (the bridge, the bridge, the bridge. amen.)
  • You & Me – Dave Matthews Band (i heart triple meter and my husband, who deserves a clean home)

sunset 2 //an embarassing post//


A few days ago, I upped my nerd points by tweeting Reeve to ask what to do when your toddler sings in a lower key than the one you set.. Yeah, I’m really getting picky here, but please, Popular Kid, don’t abandon me next to the lockers just yet.

We briefly went over vocal development of infants and toddlers in a music ed class I had back in the day.  I remember, because we held that class at Carribou Coffee.  (Dr. Huff, you’re my fave.)  We probably had more than one session on it, but I don’t know, because no coffee.  Children’s voices are a little higher than adult voices.  I start twitching a little when I hear adults leading kids too low, but I’ve already said too much about that.

We frequently hear our son busting out an “ee-yi-ee-yi-yo” from his crib, and all the pitches are in right relationship to each other. In other words, he’s in tune.  When I sing the first line and he responds, sometimes he matches me.  Sometimes, he completely ignores whatever key I’m singing in.  Is this the new rebellion?  Sing in F-sharp when Mom is in G?  For real?

So I set out to make a video to capture this phenomenon to show Reeve, whom I’ve never met in person.  My nerd points just lifted the roof off the gym.  (I fully intend to get to one of her shows and you should, too.  March 15th, maybe?)

Please note that I am not auditioning for Y’all Got Talent via this video.  This is my “singing with kids” voice.  My “singing for other people” voice may or may not be different.

Clearly, this is not what I was going for, but I knew someone would appreciate the uber-cuteness of my son.  AND – did you catch that?! It’s like he knew I told people he sang lower than me and decided to overshoot on purpose.  Pray for me.  My child is extra-rebellious.

Bottom line: Should you worry about how in tune your toddler is?  No.  Just sing.

Gymnasium roof, you may now return to your rightful place.

31 days of a new normal {day 17} effects on me as a musician – part 1

This post is part of a month-long series.  You can read the rest here.

I found this video yesterday doing some research for the high school music classes I teach.  I yelled out “WOAH!” in the computer lab at about 0:42.  Thankfully, no students were present, because another faculty member heard me, joined me to watch it, and she yelled out, too.  (I made a new friend!  Yay!)

I think placing this video within this post serves two purposes.  It proves that I am totally nerdy about music, and it proves that we’re all wired to be musical.  (Side note: When Bobby says “everywhere” in the video he means everywhere — not just America.)  I’m a musician because I’m human, and I’m a musician by profession.  Removing that from me would rip out a huge part of my identity.

More tomorrow on how my new normal and music are working together

31 days of a new normal {day 7} something to look forward to

This post is part of a month-long series.  You can read the rest here.

A few weeks ago, we turned the sanctuary piano around so that I’m now facing the congregation.  Sometimes, that can be a bummer.  It’s kind of hard to lose yourself in worshiping immortal God when you’re looking at people who look depressed by their own mortality. I’m just sayin, y’all.

PianoToday, being able to see the congregation was the most amazing, worship-inspiring thing I could have asked for.  An elderly woman who’s been struggling with her health for months was wheeled into the sanctuary, and her family parked her right in front of the piano.  I asked her daughter if it would be too loud.  (I get a little, um, happy sometimes.)  “Nope.  Mom asked to be put right here.”

Have you worshiped alongside someone who was dying?  Have you listened to a 91 year old man preach about what awaits us on the other side of death?  Have you whispered prayers during a funeral or sung that it’s well with your soul after you just talked about the times “when sorrows like sea billows roll”?

I’m not eager to leave my children without a mother, nor my husband without a wife.  I have plenty to look forward to in the many years that I hope I have remaining here, but tasting a little bit of continuous pain and fatigue has made cherish in a new way all those old songs about heaven.  I cannot wait to see Jesus and be totally undistracted in my worship of him.

more happy dance & how a tearjerker song made me grin

And today, purple paper made me do my happy dance.go purple paper, go purple paper–

I learned several years ago that having a signature paper color for important documents and handouts is a smooth move for a teacher.

  1. It sometimes never gets lost in bookbags.
  2. Parents are impressed that the local school system is rich enough to buy color paper. {Shhhh…. They need not know who purchases the pigmented parchment.}
  3. It turns the back aisle of an office supply store into a disco.  —go purple paper, go purple paper–

Lime green, teal, and now “Planetary Purple” from the Astrobrights line by Wausau Paper hath made me dance.  Thank you, trees.  Thank you, dye.

You know what else made me smile?  This conversation:

Me:  Gab, you wanna check my memory on these verses?

G:  Yeah!

Me:  “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

B:  Now do the one about outerspace treasure!!


G:  You mean…?

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Me:  (woah)

Thank you, Jesus for your toe-stomping words, and thank you, Lara Williams for your challenge to memorize those words.

And for my final trick, I will tell you how the saddest song I can think of at the moment also brought me joy this week.

My new (larger!!) roster of recruits students showed up yesterday morning.  They were cautious, not sure what they’d gotten themselves into.  After an hour, I felt I had them posed to jump on board.  Then one girl said, “Well, you should sing for us.”  So I preached a little more about how even I still get nervous doing this sometimes, and I promise I’ll never make you do something I won’t do myself.

Two, three… four song titles, and I’m not feeling even one of them.  Someone says, “Do you know Tank?” Um, no.  Shoot.

One of them mutters something about how I Can’t Make You Love Me is her jam.  (Non-teenager people:  That means she loves that song.)

WHAT?!  Does Tank sing that?  Kids, Bonnie Raitt is my hero.  Well, one of the many.  And yes, I know that song. It’s my jam, y’all. Done and done.

For the first few lines, one of the kids is kind of uncomfortable that I’m singing, and she’s being silly to cover it.  I decide not to give my don’t talk while others sing speech.  I start to realize how hard it is to sing over the air conditioners and get worried that I sound dumb.  What a professional I am. Then, before I get to the chorus, I hear two girls whisper to each other, “She can sing.”  “She sho’ can sang.”

SCORE!!!!!!  I think I hooked ’em.

Thank you, Bonnie Raitt and your ridiculously sad song.

new shoes, a dream, & a happy dance

These shoes are one of my favorite things today.  B feels infinitely cool in them, refers to them as his ‘rockstar’ shoes, and informed and proved to us that they’re fast.  A new pair of stellar shoes, like a fresh haircut, is like a new lease on life to me.  Going shoe shopping the first school night of the year is a new one for me, but we have all learned to be pretty flexible considering the number of meetings, lessons, and rehearsals that must be attended by either Mom or Dad most nights of the week.

Tomorrow, I think I may get a real roster.  By real, I mean more than 5 students in each class.  That’s the hope, anyway!  The poor guidance counselor practically lives at the school, so if he decides to eat dinner at home tonight instead of changing schedules at 7 PM, I’ll get over it.

Some teachers look at me with crazy eyes when I say I want more students, but would you want to try to lead a choir with 3 people in it?  We aren’t the Andrews Sisters, people.  Although one time, I did have 5 freshman girls who sang SSA music, and I kind of felt like B in his shoes.  (Non-Musician timeout:  SSA means soprano-[2nd]soprano-alto.  In other words, they sang 3-part harmony.)  It’s my dream for this school to have a choir that represents them well in the community.  I’d love to hear people saying things like, “They’re small, but they’re good!”  “Did you know 12 kids could sound like that?!”  “I thought those kids were too bad to be out in public, but they were great today.”

Another favorite thing today?  Calling my husband on the way home from work and being able to say that I executed a certain teaching strategy better than ever before.  The assignment that used to get practically no results actually got kids thinking and talking today.  —doing my little celebration dance–  

Why was it more successful?  Because I broke it down further than I ever have before.  Itty bitty, teeny tiny baby steps help people who have previously been unsuccessful feel that success is possible.  {REMEMBER THAT, ME!}  Teachers call it scaffolding.  Parents call it raising kids.

don’t let your kids be pitchy

English: YOKOSUKA, Japan (Jan. 14, 2008) The c...

You’re at a public function.  The kids climb, waddle, jump onto stage.  They are so darn cute.  You want to turn into Aunt Dottie and pinch their cheeks.  So cute.  The accompaniment begins. Little hands begin to mirror the hands of the adult sitting on the floor in front of them.  Super cute.

And then they open their mouths.

Oh. Good. Grief.

How is it possible for 17 kids to sing in 19 keys?  Why don’t I recognize this song anymore?  Why has that one kid turned into a Tyrannosaurus Rex?Tyrannosaurus rex, Palais de la Découverte, Paris

Y’all, kids should generally be able to sing.  I don’t mean they should all be deciding which record deal they’ll take.  I mean the ability to match pitch should be more common.

Time-Out for the Musically Clueless:  Matching pitch means making your voice create a sound at the required frequency, or pitch.  Almost everybody can tell when somebody else is singing too high or too low, but many people these days can’t tell when they themselves are off.  Each note of a melody is like a target that’s hung at a certain height on the wall.  The sound of your voice is like an arrow. The farther away from the center of the target your arrow lands, the worse you sound.

I’m stunned at how many kids can’t match pitch coming into Kindergarten at the elementary school where I taught.  I really hope this isn’t the case everywhere.  Few people truly lack the physical and mental requirements to learn this basic skill.  My eleven month old can match the contour of my vocal play, and if you’re a parent, you’ve likely noticed these type of developments in your own kids.  Every culture in the world throughout history has had music, and it’s normal for singing to be a part of daily life. Yet, as I listened to kids audition for choirs and solo spots over the years, I wanted to jump up and down when I found one who could match every pitch of “Happy Birthday.”

What gives?

Much of contemporary culture relates to music differently now and it seems to be stealing this natural developmental process away from even the youngest of us.  Here are just two of the things you can do to help the little musicians in your life:

1)       Sing in a key that works for them.  We’re way more comfortable singing low, but kids (especially the very young) have a limited range of notes that work for them.  When you sing too low for them, they sound like dinosaurs because they can’t get to the notes.

This graphic might help you if you’ve got just a bit of background.

2)      Give a bazillion opportunities for listening, for singing, and for improvising.   Challenge them to mimic your silly voices.  (You might want to set a timer on that one.) Let them make up songs for you.  Encourage them by singing along to your own favorites in the car, and tell them how much you like to hear their voice.  They’re building a musical vocabulary, and they need a chance to practice it.  Did I say bazillion?  Eh, make it an even megathillion.  In short, we’re not singing enough.

I can appreciate the momentary cuteness of the 19 simultaneous keys, but hear me when I say that there’s more.  They’ll miss out on quite a bit without this foundational skill of matching pitch, because they’ll never know the joy of joining their voice with others in simple unison.  They’ll certainly never experience the joy of singing in true harmony.

I believe we’re inherently musical, and it’s a travesty to see us reserve singing for specialists.