Last week I spent the best part of an afternoon making music in a local library with about 15 kids from the surrounding area. It’s principally a farming community, full of families and locals who know each and who have grown-up knowing each other, their habits and rhythms, movements and appearances.
When I received the confirmation email the day before the event the librarian, who was full of enthusiasm when I had volunteered to go in, had mentioned that there were crafts to be partaken after the music-making.
The whole event started with a pot-luck lunch – I saw families streaming in with bowls and dishes whilst I was gathering my paraphernalia in the parking lot. I received an encouragingly warm welcome from one of the librarians and was escorted through the labyrinth and down the stairs to the gathering space. I felt like an interloper, as though I might be invading their space a little. Still, the librarian I had originally had contact with showed me the space I was to use and urged me to join in their lunch. These kids don’t read a lot and they certainly don’t sing she told me, it’s hard for us to find ways to bring them in here she said. As I set-up a couple of people came and chatted; this was the first pot-luck lunch they had had in 8 years and they were curious to see what I was doing there. One lady exclaimed “we’re going to sing?!” The lunch went well beyond it’s allotted time and I wondered how I would get things going without being an unwelcome intrusion, particularly with the laden-down sweets and treats table enticing multiple visits from anyone and everyone!!
Eventually, with quite the unexpected rigour, tables and chairs were moved and open-space blossomed. The children looked a little nervous, the adults a little wary and no one came too close. Several possible outcomes came through in my upstairs head chatter and I wondered if I needed to throw out my plan before I’d even started. It’s always hard to abandon a purposeful structure that one has agonized over, practiced and altered until it feels balanced and whole. I started as intended and slowly introduced the idea that the kids too could come up with suggestions of what we might sing about, where the road in the picture might lead to, where we might go, how fast, how slow, was it bumpy, what noise did the elephant make and what about the goose. Gradually they started singing with me, I doubt they were conscious of any hesitation, they were happy to experiment and unearth new animal sounds, they were discovering their own story-telling abilities and innate enchantment of making-music. I looked down and there was a little hand resting on my knee; the other kids were noticeably closer in to our circle. The parents and adults who had been talking amongst themselves at the start were observing this change too.
As we moved through the session the relaxation that crept in was palpable and it was the children who got their adults to join in, offering them an instrument or a hand when we were dancing.
The craft-lady was hovering in an adjacent doorway, she was ready and expecting them. As we started to sing goodbye the kids came in closer and closer until there was no breathing space in our circle, the craft-lady called to them, folders ready; they turned, a minute hesitation and then followed. Two kids came back with a simple request “please come back”. And of course I will, I spent 3 times as long as I expected to at the library, and with it came some unforeseen joy into the lives of these kids, a little less shyness with each other, a little more curiosity about what’s in a book and just maybe some singing while they work the farm.