Years ago I was teaching a third-grade general music lesson on phrasing using the song, “The Little Birch Tree.” If you’ve never heard it, you should listen. It’s a hauntingly beautiful Russian folk song about a birch tree that gives itself, piece by piece, so that the singer can make musical instruments. At the end of the song the lyrics are “As I play my tingling balalaika, I’ll remember you my little birch tree....”
I remember while teaching that lesson being very determined that the kids would sing it well and that they would use their bodies (and scarves if I remember correctly) to help show the phrases.
Then it happened. A little girl reached toward me. She looked upset. I asked her what was wrong and she said with tears in her eyes, “I can’t sing it again. It’s too beautiful.” It jarred me. I had become so busy teaching musical concepts that I had forgotten why they matter in the first place.
Music is so amazing, isn’t it???!! A combination of sounds can cause a lump in your throat and bring you to tears. Music can help you find what you’re feeling and then help you release it. Music can bring you peace and calm. It can all at once bring you joy and help mend your broken heart. It’s no wonder we want to teach it and share it with others.
After I shook off my lesson plan I asked the little girl, “It’s a sad song isn’t it?” She and the rest of the class shook their heads affirmatively. We then took a few minutes to talk about how music can help us feel our feelings and aren’t we lucky that we get to hear and make such beautiful music.
I learned an important lesson that day. I learned not to be so intent on teaching the standards that I miss the whole point of why music matters in the first place. So let your students explore the text and inspiration of a piece. Help them dive into the meaning of the poetry. Tell them what it means to you and how it makes you feel. Allow them safe ways to share too. Let the music speak and be OK with taking time to really listen. Even though some of us can’t sing or play together now, the reason you fell in love with music is still there. Share it with your kids and they will fall in love too.