After several years of music teaching, it has finally happened! I've experienced voice loss due to laryngitis with such bad timing that a week at home on silent vocal rest has not been an option.
Teachers reading this are nodding their heads, I'm sure - "Yes. It happens to all of us one time or another!"
One of my favorite things about the Kodaly approach is that it requires the music teacher to focus a great deal of energy and time on healthy vocal development and modeling for the children. In fact, the idea that children must sing in tune to play in tune and perform other sorts of music is one of the guiding principles taught to all new Kodaly teachers. When a young child finds his or her singing voice for the first time and begins to use it tunefully, I am always amazed. It's actually a complex skill for anybody to demonstrate. Many of us take it for granted because we can't remember the first time we were able to sing in tune with others. Some of us go our whole lives believing we can't possibly sing and that there must be something wrong with us because at some point, very early in life, a teacher or relative told us, "Some people just can't sing. Here - you can play the triangle." (no offense, triangle players - your instrument is very important!)
Imagine my disappointment when, 5 days ago, I felt my voice leaving me!
It's the middle of the fall semester. My children are knee deep in difficult melodic concepts. They are learning complicated repertoire for concerts. They are beginning to sing in harmony and to experience their first layered canons, etc. On top of all that - I was a conductor for a county wide music event and very much wanted to be able to do a bit of vocal modeling for the mass choir during rehearsal.
Ah well, we have to be kept humble somehow, don't we?
What does a music teacher do when she's lost her voice?
What does a conductor do when she can't speak to give instructions?
Well . . . it was a 3 day long game of charades.
It started like this: I wrote a note to my students on a dry erase board Monday morning, telling them about my voice loss and calling our class a "silent music challenge."
I wrote simple instructions on the board occasionally. We did rhythmic dictation games. We worked on folk dances. I used my melodica as my "singing voice" because it's actually a sweet instrument with some vibrato and dynamic contrast available if you know what you're doing - my own little air piano. The kids thought this was hilarious and played right along. In fact, they tried harder than they usually do to fill the musical space I was leaving for them.
Actually, I found my students less likely to over sing (a constant battle in any choral situation) and more likely to tune appropriately. I still would have preferred to model certain things for them with my own voice, but with the help of the melodica, we moved right along.
My instructions had to be shortened and worded clearly - I had to think harder about this . . . that was a good and useful experience.
My sense of humor, often lost in the shuffle of this and that, was front and center! So many little misunderstandings here and there made for 3 pleasant days of smiling and laughing at myself - we could all use a little more of this in our lives. Humility doesn't have to be a serious thing. It's a freeing and joyful experience if we allow ourselves to be present in the moment, dusting off and laughing as we get back into our work again.
My favorite thing: I listened more than I spoke.
I listened to the beautiful singing of my students.
I listened to the energetic and clever instruction provided by other teachers and conductors in the choir room at Hamilton Sings yesterday.
I listened to successful corrections made by children who were doing their best to improve their performance with each repetition.
I listened to my thoughts . . . observed them as they passed through my mind silently all day long . . . always an enlightening practice, but so often neglected.
When my students in the mass choir yesterday were singing too loudly I couldn't raise my voice over them to say, "Quiet down! Sing quietly!" (that would've been a touch ironic, right?). Instead, I had to cut them off right then like a good conductor . . . and in very few words had to explain that soft singing and tuneful singing would better help us all to sing expressively. Then I had to do a better job with my gesture so that, each time, they could see what I wanted in terms of dynamic contrast without any verbal indication.
This morning I came into my classroom and did not feel sad or upset about the fact that my voice hadn't recovered yet. I wrote my students a note on the white board and went about my day knowing that my silence would not be an empty silence. It would offer understanding, new wisdom, and a worthy challenge for my students. It would offer the very same things to me. And, as you might have already guessed, it did!
You know me - I love a good "life lesson." This life lesson has incredible depth. I'm talking about music education, but you can think about this issue of silence and listening however you please - it will offer you the same wisdom and understanding it offered me in my classroom. I'm beginning to think I'll "lose my voice" every so often just to keep this wealth of knowledge close to my heart.
I don't know what your week has been like, but I came into this experience of "silent music class" needing encouragement. Daily life leaves us wanting encouragement already, I know . . . but this week was uniquely challenging to me.
Monday morning I was devastated by news concerning the loss of two precious, young children I've had the joy and honor to know. When I knew them, I didn't expect that this would happen. Who could see something like this coming? Nobody.
When I think of children I know and am blessed to sing with, I think of receiving unexpected letters and visits 30 years down the road. I imagine them telling me about their collegiate activities . . . about their own families and their own careers. I imagine them growing up to become even more knowledgable and talented than I am. I fondly dream of how they might surpass me - I long for it. I dream all of these things for my own son, too.
This? This. I never ever expect this.
Listening to children these past 3 days has done something to begin the healing of my broken heart, and it has reminded me how to stop and see and hear these precious human beings. It has forced me to pay attention to the gift of their unique, new, hopeful humanity.
It has given back my courage to continue dreaming and hoping only for the future of my students in the face of an imperfect world that sometimes breaks our hearts and shatters our dreams.
I remember something sweet about one of my young friends. I will carry it in my heart for a long time. Probably forever. She was shy and didn't often speak up, but she sang with great confidence.
Pay attention. Listen. Take courage. Have hope. It's the best we can do. Life is a state of giftedness none of us are entitled to - we must be thankful and brave as we live moment to moment . . . dealing with uncertainty and enjoying every ounce of truth we find along the way.
p.s. Here's a tune for the road.