88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life, published by Keep Music Alive, is a compilation of over 150 inspirational stories & quotes from musicians, music educators and music lovers from all over the world. Included are a number of stories from Grammy winning and Platinum selling artists & composers. The authors have given Music In A Word permission to post contributions to the book and we are thrilled to present one below.
I have been teaching music and movement classes in my daughter’s school on Fridays for over four years now. It has, by far, become my most favorite day of the week. It’s not that it’s easy; in fact, quite the contrary – it is quite challenging and requires a lot of energy.
There are about 100 – 150 kids in each group. They are all so excited and wound up that sometimes, controlling the chaos is, well… let’s just say, it can get quite loud. My class consists of 45 minutes of call and response songs, rhythm games, circle dances, creative movement and original music. My goals are always the same – to allow these kids to have some freedom of movement, to learn new songs, reinforce language skills and to find the joy in singing and dancing. I’m also very careful to keep it respectful and to make sure that they are making safe choices with their bodies. The kids all come around, eventually, and do what I ask them to do. It makes me feel as if I have accomplished something important at the close of each class. Part of the joy that I get out of it, is the satisfaction of being able to handle such an enthusiastic crowd of 5 to 7 year olds and to have them walk away singing new songs and wearing smiles on their faces.
In this school, there are 2 classrooms of special needs children. My schedule allows me to spend a little extra time with them in their rooms after the large groups. I’m feel very fortunate to have this time with them. They seem to really like being able to touch the guitar and have their questions answered in a more intimate setting. However, their needs are so varied that I sometimes have a hard time figuring out how to accommodate them as a group.
After my first “one-on-one” class with them a few years ago, I left feeling a bit confused. I knew that they enjoyed my class, but wondered if I was really going to be able to make a difference or was it all just going to be entertainment? A few weeks after that class, I was in the middle of teaching my second large group of the day, my Pre-K and K classes. These classes are really more like interactive mini-concerts and are held in the multi-purpose room. I have a sound system, a microphone and everything, otherwise there would be no way that the kids would be able to hear me.
I then saw one of my special needs students walk by the door in the hallway. Well, he didn’t really walk by, he actually stopped still in the doorway, turned to the group and began actively listening to the music. I noticed that his Physical Therapist (PT) was there and assumed that they were on their way to a session. This little boy (we’ll call him Johnny) stayed in the doorway for quite some time so I waved to him. He smiled and waved back. A few seconds later, I saw his PT speak to him and then Johnny came in and joined the group. He sat right down in the middle of another class (with children that he did not know) and began to participate. All of the teachers and children made him feel welcome and he stayed for the rest of the class. Afterwards, the children left and I immediately became busy talking with some of the teachers while taking down my sound equipment. I didn’t see Johnny again for the rest of the day.
The PT came up to me afterwards and said, “That was quite amazing with what happened with Johnny.” “Oh?” I said. “I’m sorry if I took him away from your session. Thank you for letting him participate.” “Well, I didn’t have a choice” he told me. “Johnny stood there in the doorway and would not follow me and then informed me that he was going to your class instead,” he said with a smile. “Really?” I asked. “Yes. And did you see what happened after your performance?” “No, I didn’t see.” I answered. “Normally, after our sessions, Johnny doesn’t walk up the stairs. He can walk down, no problem, but he doesn’t ever go up. He complains and drags his feet. Most times I have to help him, or even carry him, back up to his classroom.” “Oh, I didn’t know that.” I said. I wasn’t really sure where this story was going. “So, after your performance, he turned to me and said ‘Good show!’ and walked straight up to his classroom”! I looked at him. He had a glowing look on his face as he looked directly at me. I then realized that I had tears in my eyes. I guess the most profound thing that I took away from that experience was the fact that music and movement heal us without necessarily labeling them as “therapy.”
My experience that day contributed to my decision to go back to school and gain more knowledge on what exactly music and movement therapies could do. As I take more classes and learn from the experts, I realize again, that at its core, it is still quite simple. Every day, we are moved by music that we listen to on the subway, on our IPods, in the home or car… in order to gear up for our day. We feel release when we dance and allow our bodies to “just move to the beat” without caring if we are doing the right steps. We stretch in yoga classes and chant OM to allow our minds and bodies to connect and be as one.
Why? Because, when we have access to music and movement, we are happier. When we dance every day, we are happier. When we sing every day, we are happier. We feel better. We laugh more. We have more of a connection to others. We have a greater connection to ourselves. We can open our hearts to others and allow for this happiness and joy to help us heal. This is why I love music. This is why I love dance. It is why I love to teach music and movement and why I write and perform music for families. And, this is also why I believe in music and dance and movement therapy so strongly. It’s a big part of what makes us all human.
Suzi Shelton is a children’s music performer and songwriter based in Brooklyn NY. Her website is www.SuziShelton.com.
50% of the proceeds from all book and ebook sales of “88+ Ways…” will be donated to foundations providing music instruments and lessons to schools and communities in need.