A Reflection on Singing in Community
by Jerilyn Burke
December 2nd, 2023
Where I live, I get to experience all four seasons. This was not always the case for me. I spent much of my youth in the south, where in February you could get by with a cardigan. But now, in February, I will be wearing my trusty wooly undergarments or my synthetic base layers. Anything to keep me warm. I have been known to scheme up plans to move to places like Crete or Hawaii when the cold winds seep through the cracks of my old house. But I think this winter will be different.
Last spring, I started a singing group called the Early Birds. Since I can’t seem to get myself out for social engagements in the evenings, I decided I would create a social event for an early morning before school started. 7:30 am to be exact. Ambitious, I know. I felt such a longing to create music with others and this was the only time I felt was feasible, even if it would only last half an hour once a week. I wanted to make this meeting doable for parents so I made sure to communicate that children were welcome. I posted flyers and hoped someone would show up to the first meeting. And behold! Three lovely women showed up, a few children in tow.
Our first song was Bird Song by The Wailin’ Jennys arranged by Meg Chittenden from her music book At Home in Harmony. It was perfect. We began by singing along with the CD the first few times to get our bearings. Then we went completely a-cappella. It was beautiful! When we came to the end of the song, I couldn’t help but start heart clapping (i.e., small, swift, excited hand claps in front of the chest). Our voices shifted the vibration in the room. It was tingly. The children’s mood was also palpable – they were calm, contented, and receptive. The words were so powerful:
I hear a bird chirping up in the sky
I’d like to be free like that, spread my wings so high
I see the river flowing, water running by
I’d like to be that river, see what I might find
I feel the wind a-blowing, slowly changing time
I’d like to be that wind, I’d swirl and shape the sky
I smell the flowers blooming, opening for spring
I’d like to be those flowers, open to everything
I feel the seasons change: the leaves, the snow and sun
I’d like to be those seasons, made up and undone
I taste the living earth, the seeds that grow within
I’d like to be that earth, a home where life begins
I see the moon a-rising, reaching into night
I’d like to be that moon, a knowing, glowing light
I know the silence as the world begins to wake
After singing together, it felt as though an invisible bond permeated through us. We were so open and vulnerable. Each time we sing together, it’s as though we give and receive a piece of our souls to each other. Not only that, but with the songs that we choose, we are honoring and giving nourishment to the elemental world – the invisible beings of nature. Our children are bathed in our voices as well. They feel our love and interest for what we are doing, the words that we sing. They sing or hum our songs when they are quietly playing, drawing, riding in the car, right before bed…. It makes our hearts sing. Gratitude envelopes.
Our group took a break during the summer but reconvened this Fall. We began meeting outside on a beautiful piece of property surrounded by trees and with plenty of space for our children to play. From September to the present, each week we have seen the leaves shift from green to glorious autumn colors – gold, auburn, copper, bronze, magenta, and even peachy pink. Some mornings it felt as though the leaves were glowing from within. Soon the trees will be bare. However, the splendor of the morning sunlight will continue.
We’ve introduced each other to a plethora of songs that inspire us. One of the Early Birds asked if we would sing Winds of the West by Ayla Nereo at her upcoming birthday party. We gathered our courage and agreed! The day of the party arrived and oh my were we nervous! But it wasn’t about us performing, it was about us sharing. We were simply the vessel for the song to come forth, to be realized. So, with courage we sang. We sang with our children singing along by our side. We sang in honor of our friend’s birthday, in honor of all who were present, in honor of the fall, the leaves, the winds, and the winter that was coming.
I feel the winds of the West, outbreath, letting go of my leaves, all I do not need. Into the darkness of the fall sunset, I release, receive, getting ready for the Silence
I am now looking forward to the winter, turning inward, and singing new songs with the Early Birds. More friends have joined, bringing us to a total of nine. At the end of a meeting one of them said, “It actually wasn’t so bad getting up and out early.” Some days it certainly feels like a labor of love. I’m wondering if we’ll be able to brave the winter mornings and continue singing outside. I kind of hope we do (with my trusty base layers on!). Singing together by the warmth of a fire sounds lovely – whether inside or outside. Either way, we will continue striving to be a courageous vessel, opening our voices, and knowing that what comes out has the potential to nourish more than we know.
Shout out to the Early Bird mamas and our babies! I love singing with you!
Jerilyn Cole Burke is an avid traveler and has worked with children and families from all over the world. In addition to her LifeWays training, Jerilyn holds certification from Hand in Hand Parenting, Community Supported Postpartum, and received her Waldorf teacher training at the The Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities – focusing on Art History, Communication Arts, and Music. She has been a guest lecturer for River Valley Waldorf School’s Virtual Lecture series and was a group facilitator and co-presenter for The Anthroposophical Society in America’s Applied Anthroposophy course. Her writing has been published in outlets such as Being Human, Whole Family Rhythms, Kindling, and the LifeWays newsletter. Jerilyn enjoys finding the golden threads between anthroposophy and other spiritual paths – past and present. Currently she serves as the Communications Director for LifeWays and as an EC advisor for Nalini Kids. She lives with her husband and three children near the Delaware River in Eastern Pennsylvania.