Afternoon music is a time of whimsical musical exploration and joy! Children gain fundamental musical skills through playful activities. Music not only engages their minds, but also brightens their hearts.
Preucil Preschool was invited by Green Room instructor, Dave Gould to participate in one of its community events surrounding music. We were asked if we would like to collaborate with singer/songwriter Rachel Ries and create a song for the event. We enthusiastically agreed.
We started by asking the children a very simple question on their very first day of preschool, “Why Music?”
"Because it makes people happy!"
“Music makes your head happy. It makes people happy a lot.”
“Because it makes my heart sing.”
“Country Roads, I love that song. I feel fulled up and shiny. It feels as good as a birthday party.”
“Music makes me feel sad. It makes me miss my mom. "
“You want to hear music when you are born.”
"It makes you dance all day."
"It gives me energy."
"It makes me want to sing."
"It makes you feel better."
"It makes me happy too."
"Sometimes it’s really sad. Or it can be silly. Sometimes it’s mad."
"It makes my heart shine."
"It makes my eyeballs dance."
"That’s what it’s all about."
We started noticing some themes emerge. The most prevalent was that music creates and expresses feelings—lots of feelings. The description by one child that “music is like a bucket of hearts” seemed to sum that up pretty well. And so, it only made sense to get an actual bucket and start filling it with hearts. We asked each child to tell something about music for us to write on their heart. They have each put their magical musical heart into our bucket.
Another important theme that emerged from the hearts is that music is better when done with others.
"We always do music together because it’s fun for us."
"I play music with my Daddy. It makes me happy.."
"Music is better when my mom is with me."
AND, if someone doesn't want to or know how...
"If someone says, 'No, I won’t sing,' you just sing and they see that its’ good and they can too."
"Take my hand, I’ll show you how."
Because this will be done in collaboration with Rachel, we needed to introduce her to the children. We started by listening to some of her music.
I told the children that Rachel would be coming to Iowa City. “She’s a real person?” I suggested perhaps we could invite her to Preucil. We decided the best way to invite her for a visit was to write her a letter:
Children who are part of our Afternoon Song-Writers crew know well that song-writing doesn’t just happen:
"I had to work hard. First my brain thought of making a super-hero song. Then I had to find the right tune by listening to different ones and by thinking. I put the words and tune together, and then it was a song. It took many days."
They know that finding just the right “tune” or chords is an essential part of the song. Lauren, our music teacher, spent several days with children—in our classrooms, in music class, on the playground—to find the right ones. Marit and Lauren worked with the children to find the words and rhymes that captured it all. And, all together, they created the beginning of a song. As the words and chords came together, there was giggling, clapping, smiling, and maybe even a teacher with a tear in her eye—it was all the feels—a Bucket of Hearts!
We sent a video of our song to Rachel. She added a couple of lines that we played around with until it all felt just right. And then we made a "spaghetti and meatball song sandwich" by picking which verses would be the bread, and which would be in the middle. We talked to to the children about our line, "I'll show you how" and wondered what we can do to show people "how to music." We had lots of ideas, but thought about Jane's comment, "you just sing and they see that its’ good and they can too." We decided we can show "how" by just doing what we know how to do--sing! We added a call and response for the "meatball" of our sandwich.
After reading a book ending with "music is for everyone" I asked how we can make sure everyone has music "Share it!" was yelled out. Who should we share it with? Their first responses were close to home--our moms and dads, our schoolmates, etc. But we've been learning about our neighborhood, and so we decided we could share with our neighbors which spring-boarded to"the city, even people we don't know." "The WHOLE WORLD!"
We've asked our family and friends to join us and add music hearts to our bucket. "We are going to need a bigger bucket!" As we sing, we think about all those hearts in our full bucket. Hearts from ourselves, our friends and family, our neighbors and community. Why Music?....take our hand and we'll show you.
On the first day of school as the children were just learning routines, I asked a question: Why Music? A big, yet simple question, left open to interpretation. Why Music? Some children thought I was asking why we were having music class—“So we can learn songs to sing.” Others took a more global approach to the question, “It makes people happy.” While some had a more practical answer, “To give me energy!” Why Music? Children at our school have music woven into their daily lives—it is as natural as playing, skipping, and laughing. Why Music? I have recently written a blog about the benefits of music—reading literacy, spatial thinking etc. And while that is all true, I don’t believe that is the answer to Why Music? As we go through these next few weeks of learning each other’s names, habits, and personalities, we will grow as a school community. We will learn from one another, and we will discover together, Why Music.
by Lauren Willberg
These past two years have truly been “Years of a Binder.” If you have no idea what I mean, allow me to introduce you to the Preucil Preschool Songwriter’s Club! This is a group of children ages 3-5, who attended the afternoon preschool program at the Preucil School of Music. Kids who needed to sing about bugs, allergies, kitties, 3-ring binders, and superheroes, and were curious why no one had written these songs before! Our first Album was released in May of 2018 and was entitled Years of a Binder. This album was made up of our 10 favorite original songs of the past two years, voted on by the preschoolers.
The journey that we found together, turning ideas, collaborations, and time into a cd of songs written by preschool children, was unexpected and wonderful.
The year started like any other, a group of fresh faces with some familiar ones sprinkled in, trying to get to know each other and grow as music makers. With my Music Together background I believe in the necessity of Basic Music Competence, which is illustrated when one is singing in tune and moving with accurate rhythm. Each year, in afternoon Music, we start with the basics. We sing songs we all know or that have a lot of repetition. We clap our hands to the beat; we move around the room to the rhythm, we play with pitch. We make time for playfulness and fun with music by playing egg shakers and drums, dancing with scarves, singing and playing with the parachute, and playing our favorite musical games of “Freeze Dance” and “Land of the Silly-Walks.” We will hear a song and describe how we feel when we hear it. Does this sound happy, sad, angry, silly, excited or sleepy? We all make those facial expressions, move around the room in a way that expresses that feeling, and sometimes share the reasons we’ve felt that emotion. This is when the year grew into something that I could’ve never anticipated.
I would ask a question like; “What’s your favorite animal?’ “What’s your favorite thing to do at preschool?” “What do you love?” I asked the last question a lot and we very often would sing about our parents, pets, and favorite foods. One day, I asked for “Favorite Foods” and we sang about cherries and plums and hot dogs and mac and cheese, but then a child said “Candy” and all the kids starting chattering and interrupting and feeling frustrated that “If I had know ‘CANDY’ counted as a FOOD and not a TREAT, then I would’ve said that!” We had to have a complete reset of the class as I began to realize how much this MATTERED to the children, and that it was my job to honor it. Their energy fueled my inspiration and that day we all took turns singing about our favorite candy, while I discovered how I was going to go about this year’s project.
I decided to start a list. If a child had something that they wanted to sing about, they came up to me, at any point in the day, and told me their topic. I added their name to the list, alongside their topic. When afternoon music rolled around we would move and sing and dance and then return to class, where I would consult the list and have a one-on-one songwriters meeting. It started with them telling me everything that they knew about their topic and what mattered most to them and I wrote everything down. Then I would read it back to them, to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. During the read-back, I would underline anything that made the child react or talk excitedly or seemed very important to include in the song. We would then go get Tricia’s iPad, so that we could use our rhyming dictionary. I would read all of the underlined words and all of the words that rhymed with them out loud and we would write some mini-poems. Then I would pull out my guitar and ask them how their song should sound. Should the song be Fast, Slow, Loud, Soft, and “Like a Lullaby”? Should the song feel happy, sad, serious, excited? I would play guitar chords until a songwriter said, “That’s the sound!” then I would play chords in that key and we would find our melody together. We would put our mini-poems in order to create the best story and then we would sing through them to make sure that the song felt just right.
This process would take anywhere from one hour to a month, and when we were finished, it was quite a celebratory feeling. We would go back to the classroom and choose a piece of paper that was just the right color for this song, and they would choose a marker for me to use and I would write out the lyrics and chords to our finished song. At this point the other kids would be asking about the song, wanting to hear it, and celebrating with their friends, sometimes hugging, squealing and jumping up and down. We love singing other peoples songs and we often find a truth for ourselves, hidden in someone else’s lyrics.
Once the song was written on colored paper, it belonged to us all. We incorporated the finished songs into our regular music classes and sing-alongs, and sang them throughout the day, in the art room and outside. The teachers sang along and had their favorites. A child would hear someone singing the song that they wrote and they would fly from the art room to smile at the singers and then return to their work.
By the end of the year, we had written 18 songs and realized that we needed to record them, so we could have them forever. I brought my computer, recording software, microphone, and headphones and we set up the “Twinkie Tunes Singers Recording Studio!” This was very exciting and special, but also really challenging. Sometimes, we had to be quiet! When we “sneezed” during our song about allergies, it was too loud for the microphone and we had to start over! Every cough, or chatter, or snapped finger, or clapped hand was heard! But at the end, the microphone had trapped our voices, and saved our songs!
We made art about our songs, for our album cover, and voted on what the title of our first album should be. There were many suggested names, but the name, “Years of a Binder,” (Yes, there is a song about a three-ring binder) won by a landslide. Our art teacher printed the album covers and I copied the CDs and then it was time to celebrate. We ended the year with an “Album Release Party” where we decorated our CDs, and celebrated each song with a snack, or prop that reminded us of the song. We ate cucumbers, because that is what the roly-poly eats. We played with red balloons for the song “I Like Red,” we ate candy for “The Candy Song,” we flew around the room like “Superheroes.”
I am overwhelmed by how wonderful this process was. This was something that I never could have planned for or been “made to happen.” This was the outcome of respect and freedom, of time and trust. At Preucil Preschool, the children are respected and listened to. The children have the freedom to explore their curiosities and I am so thankful that I was able to take these kids on this musical journey of self-expression, and I am excited to see what next year will bring.
To hear the Years of a Binder songs:
Preucil Preschool is many things—a school buzzing with creativity in the art studio, play and inquiry-based learning in the classrooms, nature exploration on our playground, and social relationship building in all of our daily interactions. But from its beginning in 1976, having sprouted from the Preucil School of Music, Preucil Preschool has been a place for children to experience the joy of music. Doris Preucil started the Preucil School of Music in 1963--at the time it was one of the first Suzuki music schools in the United States and has since achieved international renown. Doris’ love of music and respect for children led to the development of a preschool, where all children were (and still are) welcomed and viewed as having musical potential. Today, Preucil Preschool is one of the richest music-based preschools that I have found, providing daily music experiences with highly trained music teachers.
At Preucil Preschool, we appreciate music for the beauty it adds to our lives and the lives of others. Music has been around for thousands upon thousands of years. It is a means of bonding, communicating, and self-expressing. We know that music has other benefits as well, especially for developing minds and hearts. The many benefits of music education for young children include speech, language, literacy, and mathematical development; overall cognitive and intellectual gains; and emotional well-being. A full review of research is beyond the scope of this post, but here are some highlights of Susan Hallam’s review of research, The Power of Music: It’s Impact on the Intellectual, Social, and Personal Development of Children and Young People:
While these benefits are amazing and very beneficial to children’s development, what we see on a daily basis at Preucil Preschool is a sense of accomplishment by mastering a complicated song, excitement of sharing our own musical creations, bonding and connections that happen while sharing our voices and music, pride in standing up and singing for others, energy that comes while bodies move in and through rhythms and beats, and most importantly, the pure joy in actively engaging in daily musical experiences within the context of our day. Music at Preucil becomes as natural and spontaneous as laughter, dance, and play.
“The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music. Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.” --Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University.
In addition to active engagement and participation with music, Preucil preschoolers have many opportunities to enjoy live musical performances by the Preucil School of Music faculty and students. Anne Quito argues that listening AND watching live classical musical performances exercises our brains and attention spans. Again, research illustrates many benefits of listening to classical music including improved memory and concentration, stress reduction, increased test scores. Hearing and watching music being produced and given to us is a magical moment of sharing. As Dr. Suzuki told us, "Music is the language of the heart without words."
Hallam, S. (2010). The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social, and Personal Development of Children and Young People. International Journal of Music Education, 28(3), 269-289
The Superhero song was the first completed song composed in afternoon song-writer's club this year!
I have had an engaging and inspiring time in our first year offering Afternoon Music at Preucil Preschool. We have truly traveled through a year. We began the year working through the fundamentals. We sang songs, moved through the beat using egg shakers and rhythm sticks, and moved our whole bodies along with the music.
We enjoyed talking about how music is a language that everyone can understand. We sang our names and feelings that we were having. We all took turns sharing experiences that gave us that shared emotion. We found guitar chords and body movements and ways to use our voices to express Happy, Sad, Mad, Scared, Tired, Excited, and Disappointed. All of these feelings were brought up by the students, and we were able to develop them depending on what emotions the kids brought to class that day. We could talk and sing and dance through our feelings and our similarities.
After all of this musical groundwork was laid, singing and moving, hearing and feeling the music, and using music as an emotional and physical outlet, it came time to truly express ourselves. The kids realized that they had things that they wanted to sing about. They wanted to make up songs about what mattered to them and share them with their friends so that we could sing them together. Our first song was a Mermaid Song – Inspired by a Little Bear book. We then needed to sing about our favorite family members, our pets!
We made up songs about our dogs, cats, and our roly-poly bugs. We first talked about our topic and what we knew about it and wrote down as much important information as we could come up with. We sometimes found a rhyme that we loved! We talked about how we felt and which kind of music and guitar chords could show that feeling. We wrote it out and sang our songs, taking ownership of creating something and singing a song that meant something to us and that had never been sung before.
In Afternoon Music we play, explore and grow as a musical community.