One of the fun things about homeschooling is I get to tailor my children’s music education to them. My kids have very strong singing voices. They have heard us sing and some of our favorites are songs that let us sing with intensity and volume. (ex. Time to Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli and Hold On, from the Secret Garden…) Even in church singing we believe that we are singing praises to God, so we give it our best. We don’t sing with the same volume and intensity as if we are singing a solo, but we do not hold back. It doesn’t feel right if you can’t hear the message in the words. Besides that we were often in places or situations where we needed to be examples helping others learn the songs. So I guess it is natural that our children picked up on the volume side of things.
The volume however has been problematic in normal school settings and at times in singing time at church. Others may not sing with the same volume or intensity. Sometimes other children feel threatened by the comparative strength. Other times it can add to the chasm of differences real and perceived, and be something to target for teasing, or ridicule. Then there are the needs of the teachers/leaders to hear the other students. And of course at performances the parents of the other children came to hear the choir not just a couple of voices. So my children get comments of “you are too loud” “I can’t hear myself” and “I need to hear the others” “you need to blend in.” The comments come in a variety of styles, words and with different emotions attached. Sometimes, from other kids it is very rude. It got to the point were our oldest, very talented singer, hated music at school. I can see both sides of it and in the normal school setting I am not sure how to approach the situation. We tried to help our son and all our kids understand why others said what they said, how they felt. But for our son, at least, he felt like he couldn’t be who he was.
We moved from Sweden to a school in Utah, USA, at the end of last school year. We got there just in time for him to try out for his classes opera. Opera is a style of singing that he had already found connection to. So as a fourth grader he tried for and got the lead. Of course it wasn’t a full-blown opera but a small one the class had been involved in writing. But for once, his style was not only allowed but it brought a lot of positive recognition. It was amazing to see his confidence grow in interacting with his peers. We were proud of him, but even more so, we were happy to see him flourishing in music, as he should!
As the new school year started we were still there. He was still in a good spot with his peers, but as the traditional music class was in place, he was soon back to the hating music as his teacher tried to hold his energy and volume back for the class needs. Then we moved to a new country and started homeschooling. My husband writes arrangements for the kids based on their strengths and abilities. And I choose more simple songs for them to learn. They each got to choose a solo for Christmas. It was fun. We performed a few times in a few settings. They aren’t sure they want a performer’s life yet. (That’s ok. They are kids and play is important to them!)
While we don’t have the school situation anymore, we still run into the problem at church. There are kids who think our kids need to sing quieter. The adults in general have become accustomed to the volume of our family. In the general meetings, I think I struggle the most with it. I worry about how they sing, we aren’t supposed to be soloists when the whole congregation is singing. I wish they would self regulate and cut it back a little. I get embarrassed when the opera voice starts singing. I go to my own questioning, How can I teach them judgement of when it is and isn’t appropriate to sing full strength? How can I share the message in a way that lets them be who they are but learn some new skills in self-governing for the situation?
This last Sunday, I encouraged my son to sing (he wasn’t). And it was one of those times where not only did he sing in full strength but he sang operatically as well. I was embarrassed, yes. But I couldn’t hear myself. (An odd situation for me.) I knew that it would not do for me to sing as loud as I needed to to hear myself. It would not feel worshipful to anyone. I knew I needed to tackle this lesson of self-governing how we sing for the situation. Now they have an outlet for singing their way, they need to learn to adapt the rest of the times.
I tackled the lesson in school. We talked about styles of songs and how a reverent worshiping song won’t feel reverent if we shout sing it. Then we went on to situations. After that we talked about the purpose of groups and their music and how that affects the kind of singing that is done in the group. Then we talked about the leaders and how their job is to help the purpose be achieved. Then we talked about the role of the members of the group. If it is a choir, their job is to bring about a unified sound. One person, focused only on their own voice, and how loud and cool they sound, can break the unity and take away from the purpose. Then I talked about musicality in the purpose of a singing group. And we went and listened to a whole bunch of clips on Youtube of different people (or groups) singing Frozen. One of the clips was two little girls. https://youtu.be/JfMBcIVU6Rw They were very young and didn’t keep to the melody or timing. My boys really reacted to the “mistakes.” But I asked them what the purpose of putting that on Youtube was? “I guess someone thought it was cute.” (My daughter put in, “It was cute.”) Yes. But other groups were more focused on the musicality. One was a children’s choir. https://youtu.be/eg0Zc7x93O4 That was fun to show how important it was for the kids to work together, but still do really cool stuff with their voices. And being our kids, they of course loved the compilation of all the different languages. https://youtu.be/BS0T8Cd4UhA
After that we just enjoyed listening to several different versions. Then we went on to different subjects. Lesson over. For now. Hopefully we can build on it and use the discussion of purpose and the roles of the director/leader and members to help them learn to gauge the use of their vocal strength. (A great thing about typing this is now I see the strengths of the lesson and I see how I can continue to build on it in real time situations as well as in our own music lessons. )
But music lessons weren’t over for me. Later on the kids were watching a film in Swedish for their continued Swedish language exposure. I worked on our song list for the live performances we are going to start at a local restaurant. I gathered lyrics and adjusted the format, one song per page, into a Word document as I listened to music and printed. In selecting songs, I started watching some of the popular singing competition clips on YouTube. My kids finished their movie and came and watched with me. We followed one singer from his initial audition to his elimination in the semi-finals (as well as some others). It was interesting to see his confidence grow and his stage presence improve drastically. Later as I was laying down to sleep, I pondered what we had watched. I was uncomfortable with the control the mentors and others from the show have on the performers. From song selection to costume, set design choreography and supporting singers/dancers, there was so much room for different morals to be integrated. It may not be easy building up a singing career without a big splash, a mentor or a label backing you, but I would rather have the struggle for me and my family than have to sign off on my values. Fame today is not worth sacrificing the joy of eternity. We believe in family values as the source of lasting happiness. So that is what we hold on to.
I also noted my last lesson as I was thinking in bed. After I had stopped watching these music competitions, I sang. I sang and sang and sang. Sometimes I put the song on the computer and sang along learning a song better. Other times I took the lyric sheet around with me as I cooked dinner and prepared the table. We ate. I sang more during cleanup. Daniel and I practiced a song together. Then we had our family night. That starts off with a religious song that we all sing. Then after a prayer and before a lesson, we have a music moment. One person chooses a song, it can be non-religious and it can be something we find online, and we all sing along. 2x. Then came the lesson. That is when I started feeling tired (not with sitting down, I was sitting down for the song portions). As long as I was singing I had energy! My mother-in-law told me a long time ago that Daniel had music running in his blood, it was as important to sustaining his life as oxygen. I think that is the same for me, although I never saw it so clearly. This is why I notice the rejuvenating power of music. It is vital to me. And while, I may notice it more clearly, I believe music can uplift, inspire and encourage so many people. This is why we need to share our music. It’s not just a matter of not letting it die within us, it is a matter of restoring a joyful life to those we can touch and influence with our music.
What are your favorite music moments? How can you build on them for more vitality and joy in your life?