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