Earlier this spring I was performing at Northville Elementary School in New Milford, CT. Kids filed into the gym (great acoustics – ask any gym teacher!) and by the time the 250 students all arrived, it was fairly noisy. The principal, Susan Murray, walked to the front of the group and sang,
“Ha ha ha ha”
“Ha ha ha ha” some kids sang back.
“Waaaay – oh!” she sang.
“Waaaay-oh” more responded.
“Gooba gooba gooba gooba” she continued.
“Gooba gooba gooba gooba” everyone sang.
My mouth dropped open. I really hadn’t expected to hear a principal (recently from Boise, Idaho) sing a New Orleans classic “Don’tcha Just Know It” to settle an audience down. But it worked like a charm. A few more “ha ha ha’s “ and “gooba goobas’” and the audience was ready to listen to me. No lectures. No yelling. And I suspect Susan Murray was not hired for her coloratura soprano voice.
One of the challenges of working in schools is managing large groups of children – it’s a problem presented by the institutionalization of learning. Large groups of people make noise – they’re hard to control. How do you do it?
Clapping in rhythm, having the group respond, works pretty well. So does holding a hand up, if people understand the rules.
In the same situation, I’ve seen some principals stand in the front and demand total silence as students walk in. “Show our guest what good students you are by how quiet you’re being,” one principal said, confusing silence with academic achievement.
Singing is a painless way to organize a group. Throughout the history of the human race, music’s major function has been to express community. It gets everybody doing something together. It’s fun. And it also focuses the group so they can move on to the next task. Singing, by the way, teaches rhythm and pitch, central to language development.
A number of years ago, in Tucson, Arizona, I watched Bob Wortman, one of the best principals I’ve ever met, walk in front of his whole school and start to sing “I Can Sing a Rainbow”. Soon the whole school was singing. I choked up. The school WAS a rainbow. And again, Bob was in no danger of getting a recording contract. You don’t have to be a professional to use song – kids don’t care.
A teacher at Paul Cuffee School in Providence, RI, where I work regularly, asked me to come up with song to help her kindergartners get to morning circle. Here’s what I came up with – a couple weeks later, and I heard the kids singing it as they ran to the rug. It’s called “Sit on the Rug” . Click on this link.sit-on-the-rug1
I forget all the time how a simple song eases the way through the day – and I do it for a living!
Note: I’ll post a blog every Friday. I promise. And I’m pretty good at promises.