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Features | Fall 2017

And Peace Runs Through It

From Peace Resources to the CMN Song Library

My friend and colleague, Michael DelMain, wrote beautiful words for a young girl in his Montessori preschool classroom who kept hitting her friends. Michael told her, “We don’t use our hands for hitting here. We have gentle hands.” He went home that night and wrote the song “Gentle Hands” for her and sang it to her the next morning. It became a favorite song, not only of his classroom but of the whole school and two other associated schools as well.

Gentle Hands
by Michael DelMain

I want to have gentle hands, strong hard-working hands
Hands that play the music of every instrument in the band
These are not pinching hands, never pushing hitting hands
These are hands with a loving touch, hands that understand
They can be building hands, they can be making hands
These are not for fighting, these are not breaking hands
I want to have gentle hands, celebrating creating hands
Let us all join hands together, remember we hold gentle hands

I have loved this song from the first time I heard Michael and the children sing it. He and I recorded it, and I introduced “Gentle Hands” at our CMN gatherings. It was one of the original Peace Resources Page listings on our CMN website in 2001. Many years later it was sung at a healing concert by Sally Rogers, Nancy Hershatter, and other CMN members for families of Sandy Hook Elementary School children after the horrific shooting there in 2012. It is one example among many of the powerful impact we have in CMN—an enduring strength in the ways we hold songs and pass them along to share in meaningful moments with our children and each other.

We all find joyful fun and playful purpose in the broad range of songs we share, covering any topic under the sun. But there are songs in particular—those born in times of a child’s deep need, songs that grow from tough real-life moments with children—that represent one of the most important ways CMN makes a difference in our world. I know there are many stories about how the songs we share weave into and through our experiences to touch the lives of children. These are powerful songs passed between us from one to the other, these songs of the heart that lie ready to rise whenever the need, great or small, calls out. It’s one of the things I have always truly treasured about CMN.

From the earliest days there was this sharing in all the ways we gathered together—at conferences, in PIO!, and then naturally through our online presence. The sharing impulse was the impetus behind the creation of the original Peace Resources Page that later evolved into the Peace Resources Pages, then the Peace Songbook. This, in turn, opened the whole online CMN Song Library.

Our website first went live in 1999. I was CMN’s website manager and online services coordinator from its launch until 2008. We envisioned putting many features online—songs, articles, links and other resources about a wide variety of topics—to enrich the many ways our members work with children. The framework was in place, the groundwork already laid for this vision of CMN online, when a national crisis struck in 2001. We were in a unique position to respond on a national level, shaping very specifically the next steps of our online work.

This power of networking that lies at the heart of CMN was never more evident than in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in New York City at the World Trade Center, in Washington, DC at the Pentagon, and in a rural Pennsylvania field. As website manager, I was particularly tuned in to what people could do with the power and reach of the Internet. I felt a real sense of urgency and a deep-seated need to act. It felt right to focus my own personal efforts to explore organizing online through CMN. In those September days, people in CMN turned to one another in many ways, including in our e-mail discussion group, to find support and share ideas about how and what to sing to children. So many of us were searching for songs that could help comfort, affirm, and give hope to the children we work with. I felt this was a crucial time for our organization to create an accessible, central listing of songs on our website specifically devoted to peace, justice, antibias, conflict resolution, community, and related themes. I envisioned our first Peace Resources song listings as a resource that would focus on peace songs written or recommended by our membership.

I began organizing the Peace Resources Page along with the CMN website team (myself, Caroline Presnell, and Dave Trahan, with Carl Foote) as well as with input from others in our organization. The CMN e-mail list thread that September—discussing songs for classes, concerts, and programs—was an important source of ideas. Throughout the weeks following 9/11, I drew from these exchanges, as well as my own songs, song lists, and collection of CMN artists and recordings, to create the listings. Nancy Schimmel compiled a terrific annotated list of children’s books on peace-related themes and contributed that booklist to this effort.

The initial version of the Peace Resources Page was up on our website that first month, September 2001. It provided the song titles, recordings, and contact information for forty-two songs in four categories: peace and justice, conflict resolution and nonviolence, fear and antibias, and global family. It also included several peace-themed articles and websites as well as Nancy’s booklist.

Thanks to a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in 2002, we were able to upgrade and expand our website even more. We added audio files and downloadable lead sheets to the Peace Resources listings. In addition, the four original categories were augmented with collections of songs on fear, grief, bullying, and patriotism. We continued to develop and expand the Peace Resources Pages over time for educators and performers; the songs, articles, books, and website links were intended to help deal with children’s questions and needs, particularly in times of crisis.

The October 2001 national conference in Petaluma, California, was a moving example of the kind of sharing that inspired the continued development of the Peace Resources pages. We spent time in large and small groups talking with each other about our experiences working with children and how our music had touched their lives in the month since 9/11. In my small group of four, one woman talked about the concert she had given at a children’s museum in the Southwest just a few days after the tragedy. A song she sang about grieving for her grandmother transformed into an experience for everyone there of grieving for all those lost in the attacks. A woman from California who taught a music class for mothers and their babies talked about how they met for their usual class on September 12. She said they could hardly speak, but the lullabies and comforting songs they sang together became vessels of prayer they sent out to the world. A nurse in a school in the Southwest spoke about how he was trying to figure out what songs he could bring into a presentation he was giving at a community meeting about the health effects of chemical and biological weapons. He wanted to find some songs to give hope and help people connect with each other. We brainstormed with him about songs he could sing to do this. 

In my turn, I described one of the September peace programs I helped organize in Minnesota at a daycare center. This center has infants through elementary age children and a very diverse, multinational staff. In this center, there were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists—families and teachers of all colors from the surrounding poor, inner city neighborhood. We gathered together at the Peace Pole in the middle of the Peace Garden outside the center. We sang, read prayers and poetry, in many languages and from many faiths. It was so moving to stand together in this circle, babies to grandmas and all ages between, singing Joanne Hammil’s beautiful song, “Circle the Earth (with Peace),” which was another song included in the original Peace Resources Page:

Peace, peace, peace
Peace the whole world over
Building friendships, sharing our worth
Take my hand let’s circle the earth with
Peace, peace, peace

My eyes kept coming back to the three- and four-year-olds I’d worked so hard to teach the word peace in many languages, and I watched them sing with all of us: paz, amani, shalom, salaam

Over the years we have continued to experience anew the power of songs as vessels, songs as vehicles to connect, to act, to heal, to move forward. We’ve seen how old songs can take on new meanings, and how new songs embody our hopes and dreams for a humane, just, and peaceful world. These songs inspire our organization as a whole. They are at the musical heart of what we offer. 

The needs and experiences that shaped those first years of the Peace Resources pages inspired the expansion of songs and themes into what the Song Library has become today. In 2008, Liz Buchanan took on the work of website manager and developed Environmental Resources on the website, modeled after the structure of the Peace Resources Pages. Under the leadership of Katherine Dines, Lisa Heintz, and Carl Foote, CMN’s beautiful Song Library has evolved into a collection of three songbooks: the Peace Songbook, the Environmental Songbook, and the Multicultural Songbook. More additions are planned for the future, all based on the needs and values that inspire CMN. We invite you to come explore and sing—and contribute your songs!

For a complete history of the CMN Song Library, please see Lisa Heinz’s article, “Sharing Our Strengths: The CMN Song Library” in the Fall 2015 issue.