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Columns | Fall 2017

Music In Bloom

Culture Bearer

While on a recent journey through Spain, I was riding on a bus on La Gomera, one of Spain’s Canary Islands located off the coast of Africa. All around me was the buzz of conversation with the sound of many different languages rising above the crowded bus, most of which I was not able to understand. Each language had its own unique and different sound.

The bus took us high in the mountains where I was reminded of how music connects people and of the importance of “passing it on.” La Gomera has an ancient “whistling language” pre-dating Spanish, called Silbo Gomero that was used on this rural and isolated island as a means of long-distance communication. An economic decline in the 1950s forced Silbo speakers to leave the island in search of jobs elsewhere. This exodus, coupled with the availability of telephones and middle-class families negatively associating Silbo with rural populations, almost eliminated the language, but luckily a revival took place in the 1990s. The children on the island now are required to study Silbo in their schools so that this language, steeped in the traditions and culture of the island, can continue. Silbo has official protection through the UNESCO designation of intangible cultural heritage. The elders experienced in the whistling language share their knowledge with the young on the island. They are the culture bearers for the future generations.

We, the early childhood music and movement educators and entertainers, are the culture bearers for our young. We are the troubadours. We have the unique opportunity and responsibility to plant the seeds that will grow in children’s hearts and minds, to start them on a journey that will encourage them to carry on the traditions of their own cultures and explore other cultures through song, dance, and stories. We are the needle that threads music through the fabric of history, while celebrating our traditions and diversity.

We are the individuals in our communities who have the talent and gifts to use music as a means to encourage young children to sing like nobody is listening and dance for pure joy of moving. We share stories that illuminate the wonders of the world and the traditions that are passed from generation to generation.

Sharing Irish traditions with the children as they explore the bagpipes

Some of us facilitate the journey by sharing songs that have been passed down through generations. Others create new songs and dances that teach young children about cultural traditions. Finger plays, piggyback and zipper songs, echo singing, action and movement songs, chants, and call and response songs are all tools for us to use in our role as culture bearers.

The lyrics that we write provide insight into the diversity in our communities and the many cultures that come together in our lives. These lyrics can be used with traditional melodies or new melodies. Both ways provide us with opportunities to pass it on.

Instruments we share with young children can represent our own culture or highlight another place in the world. Exploration provides young children with a means to express rhythm and beat. They experience music of diverse cultures though eyes, ears, and body.

Storytelling through oral presentation, songs, or picture and storybooks offers us the opportunity to create an interactive experience for young children in the classroom, at concerts, and at community events.

Local library and Internet resources are at our fingertips, but don’t forget about our most precious resource in passing on tradition and culture: the parents and grandparents of the young children. People are happy and willing to share. Through these resources we can curate and research traditional music or create new songs and activities.  

Sharing the Chinese Dragon Dance with our homemade dragon

As culture bearers we pass down hymns, folk songs, spirituals, songs of patriotism, holiday music, classical music, nursery rhymes, songs from stage and screen, rounds and canons, camp songs, humorous songs, singing games and dances, cowboy songs, and songs from other cultures and countries.

Last but not least, passing it on requires a community effort. It is important to belong to and engage with a community of performers, teachers, and songwriters. The Children’s Music Network is an organization that provides us with the means to learn and the outlet to share our experience and knowledge with other troubadours through gathering at conferences, participating in workshops, networking, and attending songswaps.

We are the troubadours planting the seeds of culture and community. CMN helps us to continue forward.

I challenge you to pass it on, to bear the banner of culture and cultivate the seeds of tradition.  Use the resources that are available to you as you provide the children and families in your community with the opportunity to learn and share in cultural diversity.

I leave you with the lyrics to this song I wrote.

Troubadour of Song
Words and music by Maureen Conlin
© 2017 Maureen Conlin

A whistle is a whistle, a melody made of air.
Rhythm is the heartbeat heard everywhere.
A note is a sound riding on a scale.
Lyrics of a song often tell a tale.

No matter where we are, no matter what we do,
Weave this thread of music so it’s shared by me and you.

Pass it on, pass it on, for everyone to hear.
Pass it on, pass it on, for everyone to share.
Be the troubadour of tradition, the minstrel of sound.
Cultivate the seeds and pass them all around.