I believe that every child should sing. Within every child’s repertoire, there should be several songs they can sing by heart- at any time, and for a variety of reasons. I am a classroom teacher that is desperately trying to leave no child behind. One casualty of fighting to leave no child behind in math, reading and writing is the arts. Laying almost dead, bleeding in the battlefield are drama, visual arts, and of course, music. I refuse to let music be a spoil of the war. I refuse to let the children in my class grow up not knowing the pleasure of singing.
Each week myself and three other teachers gather our classes together to sing. We sing songs from different cultures, we sing work songs, we sing popular songs, we sing Girl Scout songs, we even sing Negro spirituals, and the kids love them.
Some children are reluctant at first to sing with us. Their ears burn red and eyes bulge in disbelief as they realize that they are expected to — dear God! — stand up and participate in a song! Many teachers would not tread on this hallowed ground, but we do. And here is why: sometimes, the only thing to do in a situation is sing. And, I want my students to be prepared.
For the last four years, I have worked with a teacher who is crazy about sailing and pirates. So, of course, singing became about pirates, capstans, fair ladies on shore, and the call of the sea. I am certain that we had the only second grade group in the nation that could sing six verses of “Farewell and Adieu to You Spanish Ladies”. One time our students serenaded the lunchroom with sailor songs. Our students would sing while they did their class work, with different children starting a song. They would sing in their cars on long trips. Parents exclaimed, “I had no idea my child knew so many songs!”
Eventually, they would sing for one of the hardest parts of life, the death of their classmate. At eight years old, Britt died of a heart condition, suddenly, tragically, and ripping a whole in the center of everyone’s chest that ever knew him. He was one of our most stalwartly pirates, one of our most passionate singers. Britt listened every night to the ship’s songs CD that we gave him as a present. When Britt died, it was so hard to know what to say, but we knew what to sing, and so did the kids.
We showed up at his memorial dressed like pirates, the whole lot of us. In front of hundreds of community members, our students sang their hearts out for Britt. Somehow, we knew it reached him. Somehow, we knew it was the right thing to do. And through our smiles and tears and voices lifted in song, I felt that Britt was singing along. Because, songs sometimes say what words cannot.
“Safe and Sound at home again,
Let the waters roar Jack.
Long we’ve tossed on the rolling main
Now we’re safe ashore Jack
Don’t forget your old shipmates,
Folly Rolly Rolly Rolly Rye, Eye, Doh.”
I believe every child should sing. The moments we spend in song, makes us part of a whole, and includes us in harmony. When singing in a group, no one is left behind. Most are lifted, to a better place. And in this better place, I find hope.
This week, we are working on the Dona Nobis Pacem, in three parts. It is off-key, off-time and wonderful. We tell them, “No one does this. No one teaches first through sixth graders this kind of stuff,” to bolster their courage, to engage them in song. Because no matter how silly they feel singing it or I feel teaching it to them, I want them to sing. Sometimes life demands it.
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