A New Love Language:Teaching At Emmett Till Elementary School

A Call to Action

When I first found about about Foundations of Music, I thought it was another organization on the quest to “save music”. Music programs have been the first to be cut and last to see funding since I before I was born, so it was no surprise to me. However, that is not the mission of FoM. I quickly learned that the organization simply provides music to every child they can. The day I entered Emmett Till Elementary School, I was introduced to a group of children that had a thirst for music laced with trepidation.   

A Super Power

My songwriting and production groups were made up of brilliant 8th graders. A group of girls and boys who had lyrics, beats, and passion oozing out of them. They also had deep stories buried on top of that passion that we would have to get through in order to bring out the music. Now, kids LOVE technology, so I knew we had that going for us. It was time for me to learn their language, so that we could communicate. We started with song circles and games that helped them to break free of their insecurities. Even midway through that unit, some of the students stuck to their side of the room, clutching their backpacks, and avoiding eye contact. I had not earned a place in their community… but I spoke the language.

The one time they would join the group is when we talked about music. Their body language would soften and the room would warm up. We talked about artists, what their world was like, and finally a bit about what my student’s experienced every day. They would write lyrics about experiences they would never share out loud, as if the music was a secret code language that made it okay. Once we combined that with recording their innermost thoughts, we were a new community.

Seeing them figure out how to connect cables, manipulate sound, and create the beats that were in their head during history class, was like seeing a child ride their bike without training wheels for the first time. The one thing I know, is music has become a super power for these students.

“You say hello…”

Young children see and feel music differently. Once you open your mouth to sing, it is difficult for them to avoid joining in, moving their bodies, and engaging in what is around them. The primary grades at Till Elementary are filled with large classes of children ready to jump and dance. Teaching General Music is a joy and a challenge. When I enter the room, I feel like a musical magnet. Each session begins with a “Hello Song”, but it is much more than that. That one very simple melody is what brings the room together. It tells the students that it is time to release all worry and have some fun.

It is amazing to see each person in the room turn into a musical artist. They dance their hearts out and sing at the top of their lungs, always looking for the next direction. The pace is lightning fast, changing gears every 3-5 minutes. The only way to connect with these rockstars is to embrace your inner child. There is a musical way to do anything! We sing to creating a circle, moving tools, standing up, sitting down, and these kids know how to boogie (literally).

My favorite moments are when they share their ideas for song adaptations. Imaginations take over and the students take their choices as seriously as we take our careers. They want to sing about their friends, their dreams, their fear, and their families. They are very vocal about music they love and music they hate. They also have no problem helping you out when they think we can “do that one song better.”

Music has always been that one class that everyone wants….just don’t get too loud. There is a magical moment that happens when young children connect with the music. It is like time stops and they forget where they are. The look on their face is pure joy, which is amazing when they have were having a terrible day previously. As a teaching artist, part of my goal is to give them that moment to hang onto for as long as they can.

“Music is what feelings sound like.” - Georgia Cates

Music saved my life a long time ago, and then morphed into my career. In turn, I have had the opportunity to see it change many other lives along the way. There is an underlying understanding in it, no matter where you are in the world. I am a lifelong teaching artist and I truly believe that music is the ultimate, universal love language.

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