Review of “MUSIC FOR THE YOUNG CHILD” (a 3-video set)

Review of “MUSIC FOR THE YOUNG CHILD” (a 3-video set):

“Kinderharp / Kinderlyre,” “Mood of the Fifth” and “Music for the Young Child, Grade 1”

Reviewed by Jill Taplin for Kindling (U.K.). Reprinted with permission of the author.

In the last issue of Kindling, I enthusiastically reviewed the new WECAN book ‘The Mood of the Fifth; A musical approach to early childhood’.  Here in these videos is a further boost to our resources for working with music for young children.  For some people, the prospect of watching and listening, rather than reading, to extend your understanding is attractive and these videos are a real gift.

The first one is an hour long conversation, between Bianca Lara, of LifeWays, San Diego, and Sheila Johns of the Association for Waldorf Music Education, full of inspiring information about how to use your lyre.  There are parts when it would be a challenge to the complete musical and lyre novice but everyone will gain something from it.

It begins with a little about the history of the lyre, from ancient times up to the creation, in the early 1960s, of the simple and beautiful 7 string lyre as a special instrument for the young child.  Sheila explains just why this is such an important instrument for children.  There is no physical ‘production sound’ but only free moving sound.  As it is an instrument without a resonating chamber, there are no overtones, just simple tones.  This is what is needed by the young child, to preserve his innate musicality.

The first half of the video, after this introduction, is about how to string and tune your lyre.  I was fascinated to hear the discussion of the advantages of tuning by ear.  I recommend everyone who uses the lyre and is not confident in tuning by ear with a tuning fork, as demonstrated here, to tune electronically.  It is important for you and the children that your lyre is in tune.  However, I have learned to tune quite well ‘by ear’ through practice and it has, as is suggested on this video, given me the ability to pitch an A fairly accurately so I really do appreciate the arguments here.

Sheila suggests that singing high enough for young children is an increasing challenge for adults and this is borne out on the last video when she works with a group of adults singing entirely in the register of the pentatonic lyre.  Today we naturally gravitate to something around the middle C rather than the A tone at the centre of the pentatonic lyre.  Using a tuning fork to pitch your A tone every time you sing in kindergarten, seems a cumbersome way to work, interrupting the flow of what you are doing, but through this video, I have been reminded how pitch matters.  As Sheila says, perfect pitch is within the young child and when we repeatedly pitch our voices accurately, we support the child in retaining this.  Learning to tune a lyre by ear is more than a means to the end of a well-tuned lyre, it tunes us into the Mood of Fifth which is so important for working with young children.  The careful listening required may help our own voices to become purer and more supportive to the developing sense organs of the young child.  This perspective has shaken up my thoughts about tuning and working with pitch for which I am grateful.

The second half of the video takes us into actually playing the lyre.  Bianca points out that using the lyre, even just to ‘stream’ the notes slowly, can give a pure musical experience to children who, as Sheila mentions, are all born as musicians.  So many adults have lost their innate musicality through poor musical experiences, but using the lyre, in a kindergarten, for example, gives everyone the opportunity to bring a wonderful musical experience to the children in our care.

Here you will find plenty of practical advice about developing good playing techniques, and inspirational thoughts too.  For example, I had not consciously noticed that the gesture of playing, is really a eurythmy gesture as it extends the sound through space (so obvious now I have been given the idea) and I like the description of welcoming the tones into the space for the child.

I came away from this video with lots of good reasons for encouraging those who work with young children to be comfortable using the lyre.  It supports a good singing voice, it supports our experience of the mood that young children need, and it helps us to create our own simple melodies in pentatonic or Mood of the Fifth.  Sheila suggests that it can even be a tool for learning to read music.

A small part of the information on this video, gentle and clear as it is, would be too complex for some people.  As I teach lyre to students studying Steiner Waldorf early childhood education, I know how quickly some can become lost in music theory and even frightened by it.   Perhaps these are examples of children whose musicality was not nurtured when they were young.  I shall still be encouraging, on a practical level, the use of an electronic tuner rather than playing a lyre out of tune (or not playing it at all).  However hearing this conversation between Sheila and Bianca, has reminded me of the deeper concepts that lie behind the pentatonic lyre and how the Mood of the Fifth, which it carries so beautifully, is important to all those who work with young children.

The second video (1 hour 20 minutes) is a recording of a lecture given by Sheila Johns at a music conference.  This is a well-structured lecture during which Sheila puts us into the shoes of the child whose sensitive ears meet a sensory overload of artificial and mechanical sound instead of the immediate reality of the human voice which he most needs.

She reminds us that ‘all sounding is music to the young child’, and that, musically speaking, early childhood continues until the age of nine.  She has come to describe herself as a music facilitator, rather than a music teacher, and her task is to help children not to forget what is already living in them, and to help adults to remember what they have forgotten.  She asks for the aural space to be protected not just for the musicality of each child, but for the future of humanity.  Nourishing the listening space that is behind us, the backspace, both with silence and with pure sound, allows us to listen to our destiny.  Rudolf Steiner said, in 1919, that, “Song is an earthly means of recalling pre-earthly existence”.

She discusses both pentatonic (the five tones based on fifths) and the Mood of the Fifth (a way in which we can use these tones).  I appreciated her emphasis on the balanced and centred feeling that Mood of the Fifth engenders with its mirrored lemniscates.  This lecture itself is a lovely balance between a technical explanation and a creation of a mood.  It is a little irritating not to be able to hear the contributions from the audience during the lecture, but this hardly detracts from the essential content of the lecture.  The body script which she describes for teaching songs (to adults and older children) is something that I shall be trying out.

The last video is of a music teacher (or facilitator?), Andrea Lyman, demonstrating and talking about music sessions for class one.  In her demonstration, the use of Mood of the Fifth, repetition and imitation is a good reminder to the kindergarten teacher of how much we can use and rely on these.  She talks about class one music (and presumably kindergarten music too) being entirely Mood of the Fifth, and moving in class two into pentatonic songs with major and then minor ‘flavours’.  In class three, the transition to diatonic music comes with modal folk songs that still use the pentatonic tones.  This, she suggests, is really respecting the evolution of consciousness recapitulated by each child.  I wonder how much this gradual progression happens in our schools.

In the UK, we held a well-attended conference in April 2011 focusing on music for the young child.  In addition, we have had an issue of Kindling dedicated to this topic and it is taught, alongside lyre playing, on our early childhood education courses.  However, I don’t consistently experience lyre playing, appropriate pitch and Mood of the Fifth being used in our kindergartens.  I wonder if more and more adults are undermined (damaged?) by the increasing domination of electronically reproduced music in their own childhoods and are less able to understand the innate musicality of the young child that Sheila John’s conjures up for us in these videos.  If this is the case then books, videos and conferences will all help, but I am left thinking about the therapeutic task that is implied, particularly for those involved in educating others for work with young children.

I recommend these videos as a very helpful addition to our resources.  As a mentor and teacher educator, I have found that they refreshed my ideas.  Whether you have a lot of musical knowledge or just a little, there will be something in them for you.

Ordering them outside the US, means buying the downloadable option rather than the DVD.  This is the link that enables you to do so: DVDs  The cost is $25, which is currently £15 and a very reasonable price for some inspiration!