It’s pretty incredible hearing children sing. Before coming to the Peace Corps, I never really liked children or the company of children or anything that has to do with children. But that all changed when you are forced to spend most of your time with these little buggers, especially when they aren’t really afraid to engage you (unlike the adults, although they do not like to admit this). Especially the younger ones, they have the tendency to peek into your doorway with a bashful curiosity, and only when you give the offer of stickers or candy do they dash next to you with a big toothy grin.
The children in my village LOVE music, and singing is a sure way to attract a large number of kids to your home. And I find this to be true with a lot of kids in general. That’s why there are so many sing-a-longs CDs/DVDs/tapes/media made for kids. Humans have a natural gravitation towards melodies and it starts at a very young age.
So back to how incredible it is to hear children sing. It all started with a truck ride back to my village on North Efate from a day in Vila. Of course I was listening to my music device and of course I was listening to one of my favorite songs of all time: U2’s “With or Without You”. I was mouthing the lyrics and jamming to its epic tune, and it suddenly occurred to me, why not turn lyrics into a teaching tool? Why not teach English poetry through song lyrics?
I decided that I would form an after school program that is dedicated towards allowing children to practice their reading skills. And to give some variety from the narrative writing that they usually read, I have them read lyrics from chosen songs after an hour or so of reading from a children’s novel. After allowing them to discuss the meaning of the lyrics, I play and sing it on the guitar. Then they sing it with me. We then discuss simple questions like, “From the lyrics alone, do you think this is a sad or happy song?” and “After listening to the song, now is the song happy or sad or neither?”. The goal of this is to give these ESL kids a chance to gain a wider breadth of the English language, to read material that they would normally not read in school. More importantly, the goal is to get them thinking about English writing as a means of creative expression, not only through the words alone but the music that accompanies the words.
The songs that I choose are very benign, of course, and have no less-than-pure implications in their meaning (although I do have the secret wish of having these kids sing “Hotel California”, simply because it is an awesome song to sing). So far, we have done “Blowing in the Wind”, “Let it Be”, “Five Hundred Miles”, and “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Lots of Bob Dylan. LOTS of Peter Paul and Mary (Because they are my muse and musical heroes, and once upon a time I was in love with Mary Travers). Lots of Beatles. In general, lots of folk songs.
Back to my original premise, it is incredible hearing these kids sing and harmonize to a song like “Blowing in the Wind”. The meaning of the song is so in line with the hippie ideology that so permeates the Peace Corps mentality. And perhaps because of the church culture here, people have the incredible ability to sing and pick up melodies. And the natural ability to harmonize.
It’s fucking beautiful.