Creating A Safe and Positive Musical Environment

by Children's Chorus director Laura Barkett

Over the last seven years, I have had the privilege of directing many choirs of varying age ranges. Regardless of whether I am working with elementary school children or adults, there seems to be a universal hurdle that I encounter: Recruitment. Finding individuals who genuinely want to make music and are up for the challenge can be a grueling task for any music educator. “Anyone can sing!” I exclaim enthusiastically, but am often met with, "I’m the exception,” or “I’m just not a ‘music person.’”

I recently read an article entitled “Stop Obsessing Over Talent—Everyone Can Sing,” in which music education professor Steven Demorest addresses a philosophy that I hold very dear to my heart:

We are natural musicians and are inherently wired to create, sing, dance, and play music.

Research done in the last thirty years suggests that this belief—that all humans have an inherent potential to be highly creative and musical—has a solid scientific foundation (if you’re interested in some “light” reading regarding Music Learning Theory, you can check out Audiation, Music Learning Theory, Music Aptitude, and Creativity by Edwin Gordon). So then, why are we a society split so divisively into “the music-makers” and “the musically challenged?” Why aren’t we all virtuosic prodigies who can compose and play dozens of instruments with ease?

There are two major factors at play, and both are encountered within our first ten years of life. Whether you identify as the “music-maker” or the “musically challenged,” ask yourself the following questions:

  1. In my first ten years of life, did I have exposure to rich, enjoyable and meaningful music experiences?

  2. In my first ten years of life, did I have the opportunity to take creative and musical risks in a setting that was safe, constructive and positive?

Research tells us that these are the two most imperative reasons why children either gravitate towards or evade music entirely. Those who went on to “do music” as teens and adults likely had meaningful, enjoyable encounters with music at a young age and had positive risk-taking experiences in music. They may have heard feedback such as, “Every mistake is progress,” or “You’re getting there—with a little bit of practice, I bet you’ll get it!”

Those who label themselves as “musically challenged” may have taken a musical risk at a young age and were criticized or humiliated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard adults say, “I’m a terrible singer…my school teacher told me to just mouth the words during concerts,” or “I was kicked out of choir in school…you don’t want me to sing!”

So here’s the bottom line: It’s just as much about environment and growth-mindset as it is about talent when it comes to music.

Allowing our children access to quality music experiences—like attending Tuscarawas Philharmonic concerts—can help mold them into life-long appreciators of the arts. Giving our children opportunities to be vulnerable and challenged in a safe and positive musical setting—like joining the Children’s Chorus or attending Tuscarawas Philharmonic Summer Camps—can set the stage for uninhibited creativity and success, both musically and in life.

The Tuscarawas Philharmonic Children’s Chorus is a place where enjoyable, meaningful music-making happens; where taking musical risks is nurtured and encouraged; a place where every child is welcome. Because it’s not just a choir rehearsal that takes place every Monday night at 5:45. It’s a training ground for a new generation of confident, creative and uninhibited human beings.

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