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The Spaces In-Between

Heartsong Family with Drum

The air was cool off the lake, and I was glad for my sweatshirt. Growing up in Texas, I was still surprised by how chilly the summer nights were up in the mountains! Glancing down the bench I smiled to see my campers holding hands while we sung together around the campfire. I don’t remember what song we were singing, but I do remember the complete abandon evident in the faces circled around the flickering fire. A few campers had their eyes closed, and more than a few of us counselors were enjoying a peaceful moment while voices raised in song filled the air around us before drifting into the pine trees at our backs.
As the last pure and wondrously imperfect note faded into the stillness, I took a breath and waited for the next song to start…but it didn’t. No one spoke as the guitarists and song-leaders stood in front of us, silhouetted by leaping tongues of flame and light that reached up into a starry sky. A few seconds passed, it couldn’t have been more than 10 or so, but it seemed like an eternity. Finally, one of the song leaders spoke in what was almost a whisper. She said, “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” She spoke those words two more times before we were silent together for another minute or so, then we sang one last song and headed up to our cabins for the night.
I will never forget those words or that beautiful evening. There is so much focus in our lives on filling the spaces in-between! We fill those spaces with noisy activities, television, and yes, with music. What struck me about the quotation that the song-leader read (which later I found out is attributed to William Penn and is hundreds of years old) is how essential he makes silence seem. Silence being to the mind what sleep is to the body!
Silence may seem like a kind of funny subject to blog about for a music teacher, since I earn my living making noise! However, I find that silence is an essential and underrated part of music. The contrast of sound next to silence energizes and inspires us when we listen to or make music! And it is amidst silence that for centuries musicians have been inspired to compose beloved songs, symphonies, concertos and the like.
When you come to class at Heartsong, it is to make music together. But do not be afraid of silence! It holds a myriad of opportunity, rest, possibility and inspiration. We become so busy filling the spaces in-between! Remember that it is just as valid to sit quietly with your child and rest together as it is to busy ourselves with activities and whatever is next on our “to-do” list. 
Allow your family to experience the magic of sitting in silence together, use it as a tool to introduce the basics of introspection, looking inside our minds. Challenge your children to be quiet for very achievable amounts of time, 10 seconds, 30 seconds and then build to minutes! Ask after the silence, “What did you think about while you were quiet? Did you imagine anything?” You may be surprised by the responses that you hear! 
Silence is also the space in which our children develop the ability to audiate. Audiation is a fancy word for “imagining” sound. It is the foundation of musicianship and happens when we hear and understand music when the sound is not physically present. Did you get that? I’m going to repeat it because it is so darn important: Audiation is one of the most important building blocks of musical development – and it happens in SILENCE. In our Music Together classes, we give opportunities for purposeful silence because the children are able to process the music they just heard without any other sound getting in the way.  It is in this silence that they will begin to hear the music in their heads, which is necessary for them to do before they can effectively produce their own music.
Here’s a simple exercise to try at home to give your child an opportunity to audiate: start singing a favorite song (songs that have motions to accompany it are especially great for this exercise). Then tell your child (if they are old enough), “Now we’re going to sing in our imagination instead of with our voices,” and go through the song with the motions, but without singing. If your child isn’t old enough to understand directions, go ahead and just do it without speaking the instructions. Do this several times, alternating between singing out loud and then thinking the notes in your minds. This activity is a super-vitamin for your child’s musical development, and is fun, too!
Wishing you all the best until next time and happy music making!
Sally Nava
Music Together Teacher

 

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Just Breathe

Music Together and BreathingWelcome to 2015! With each New Year come thoughts of resolutions; more of this and less of that, a bigger this and a smaller that, working towards goals and letting go of what no longer serves us. I enjoy making resolutions, and even when I am unable to reach goals that I set, I appreciate them. Having ideas to support a healthier and happier existence is a great motivator! It can, however, be daunting to feel like there is so much to do (or not do, as it may be) to reach a place of health and happiness. 

A few years ago, my mom began a New Year’s tradition of setting a mantra instead of making resolutions. A mantra is defined as a “word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation,” with another commonly accepted definition, “a statement or slogan repeated frequently”. In fact, the first mantra that my mom adopted was the Nike catchphrase, “Just Do It.” She found herself in a place where she was holding back and wanted to be more courageous. This mantra was successful in helping her move forward while remaining mindful of what she was capable of. It was a personal and powerful motivator.

What does any of this have to do with Music Together and what we do at Heartsong? Well, I have a proposition for you. What if we all adopted a mantra? A personal, powerful motivation tool that will assist in making each class a mindful and possibly more enjoyable experience? It’s an easy one, “Just Breathe.”

Just breathe. In the spaces between songs, in the middle of a fast-paced free dance, at the beginning of class before we sing the “Hello Song”, as you rush down the hall to help your potty training child get to the bathroom, when the teacher challenges you to participate in a way you aren’t totally comfortable with…”Just Breathe.” 

Breathing mindfully is a wonderful way to not only focus on a task, but is also very important to having a comfortable and “proper” singing technique. Breath support creates a steady and controlled release of air that makes it easier to sing with a smooth and consistent sound. In fact, proper breath support, especially in the lower abdomen (the diaphragm and muscles around it), keeps harmful pressure away from your vocal chords and throat.

For the purpose of singing, it is important to note that there are many schools of thought on what the “right way” is, but all agree that breathing deeply and with purpose, is a must have to support your voice. When you inhale, try to expand your belly and lower abdomen versus just expanding your chest. One way to check that this is happening is to place your hand on your belly and breathe in. If your hand rises and falls with your breath, then you are off to a good start! If you would like to know more about the process of breath support for singing, there are a myriad of articles and books available. Click here to read an article that I highly recommend on “Singing and Mindfulness” from Princeton University. Or, you can always ask your teacher after class!

I hope you will join me in adopting a mantra to “Just Breathe” during classes this year. May we all be granted one breath after another towards health and happiness in 2015!

Sally Nava
Music Together Teacher 

The Joy of Family Music

Heartsong Music teaches Music Together®, the internationally recognized early childhood music and movement program for children from birth through grade two and the adults who love them.

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