Music is a gift we receive from our parents and give to our children. That’s if we’re lucky. I was. My mother sang and played with her family as a child. As the eldest of four, I shared music with her before we had a television in the house. I sang along with her songs as a toddler. And I’m still surprised to know the obscure verses to jazz standards that were sung on the radio in the fifties.
Children are little sponges with wide open minds. We owe it to them to direct their study toward music and the arts in general, but particularly toward music. Children need to learn the cooperative life skills that music teaches by natural example.
Shared family music provides a constructive long-term activity that creates a dialogue where learning occurs but isn’t forced. It creates stronger communication among family members, deeper emotional bonds, and an appreciation for the joyful results of successful teamwork.
Folk music families often participate together in informal and formal performances. My daughter sings and plays bass with me in two of my groups. Another music partner performs with her husband and daughter and another friend plays with her parents and her sister in Cape Breton. And even if we’re not related by blood, those we play with tend to become so close they are considered family. This music-making thing is so much more than a ‘family business’ though. On a purely practical level, you’d probably pass it by. Not enough money to be made, you’d think, not enough time to practice or play.
But we measure joy in deep satisfaction, not dollars and cents. The day my daughter went to bat with me about the emotional content of her chord choice and went on to talk about telling a story in a song lyric, my heart sang. Music gave us a common language where we could be peers, not parent-child.
I didn’t even know what I was doing at age four, singing with my mother. I just sang the harmony. Singing now with daughter Molly, I see our stitches in the tapestry being woven, generations of voices singing down the years. My mother’s mother sang to her, she sang to me. I sang to Molly. She will sing to her children someday.
Encouraging our children to partake fully of the arts is important. They need to be drawing, writing, singing, playing an instrument, dancing, learning to build something, to garden or cook or sew or craft as part of their education. They shouldn’t just be consuming media on their electronic devices. We want them creating!
Molly and I both feel strongly about this – it’s not just philosophy. We’re part of the posse for the Great Groove Band, a program I started in 1998 with the support of Andy Spence at Old Songs Festival in Altamont NY. Molly was ten that year, grew up at Old Songs, and is now the Groove Band vocal coach at both festivals. We were asked to develop a second program in 2006 at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and just celebrated our tenth year there.
We invite you to attend either (or both) festivals and bring your young musician (age 6-17) to our performance training program. Our staff are music teachers with lifelong performance experience and we welcome young singers and all acoustic instruments including percussion. There are two instrumental performance ensembles at Old Songs, one for teen instrumentalists, while Philly always produces a larger crop of singers!
We provide music and listening downloads several months in advance for both ensembles, who learn songs and tunes and how to play together by ear. At the festivals, they share in arranging decisions, learn stagecraft and create a 20-minute main-stage opener for the Sunday afternoon show.
Contact me (donna AT fiddlingdemystified.com) or Molly Hebert-Wilson (mollyhebertwilson AT gmail.com) for more information about participating in the program at either festival or to discuss how we can help you create your own festival Groove Band experience.
Here’s one performance – 2014 at Philadelphia Folk Festival – an Old-Time song called “Mole in the Ground.”
Donna Hébert – 3/30/15