Although I usually have a general sense of the direction I want to go in for each event or setting, I also stay in-the-moment when I’m there so that I can let the group guide and direct our time together. Of course, I will also work with teachers and educators in terms of their educational goals, group needs or particular way that they’d like my time with their students to dovetail with other activities. Dialogue, laughter and reflection are perhaps the most prominent features of how my work in educational settings takes shape. I hope to be a vehicle for challenging students, in a gentle way, to think about the world in new ways that will enrich their lives as individuals, members of their local and global societies, and as students.
I use music in variable ways and for variable lengths of time, depending on the nature of the dialogue and questions that arise, and on my feelings about the kind of space that I need to try to create in order to encourage a sense of openness and interaction. My overriding goal is to engage students (and teachers, when appropriate) in an open and in-depth dialogue. I find that this approach often creates an intense and effective learning environment that many students talk about for a long time after we meet, and that generates content that teachers can call upon for ongoing discussions and learning in their classrooms.
Sitting in a circle with preschool children for two hours while allowing them to lead and direct our conversation is absolutely invigorating for me and for them as well. I find that children in this age group have a strong curiosity and little inhibition. They share many profound thoughts and questions that require more than simple, one-step answers. We all learn a lot, and some children have gone on to do more extensive class projects that build on our discussions and time together.
My work with elementary and high school students often takes place at whole-school assemblies, in music class, or within cultural diversity programs and group discussion formats. When the students and I spend time talking together, conversation inevitably turns to concerns common to many teenagers – identity, social relationships and figuring out how to engage their lives in a world they sometimes find complex and confusing. Music is an especially wonderful way to reach out and encourage open dialogue and reflection about their experiences and concerns, their educational processes and movement toward their lives as adults. I love the special challenge of finding that which will stimulate interest and participation with this age group.
College and university students are often well prepared to engage me with their questions, ideas and reflections. Many times, I’ve played very little music in these settings because of the nature of the dialogue. Of course, there are those times when it is music that is most needed after many hours of study! This need I honor with equal enthusiasm.