A couple of years ago I was asked by a Local Authority to deliver a series of practical workshops for Early Years practitioners. As always, I was extremely busy and so I skim read the brief, confident I could deliver anything that was requested. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
What I hadn’t realised in my cursory, and quite frankly lazy, reading of the brief was that one of the sessions was all about music and singing. A practical session all about singing! Now I know what you are thinking. Surely this should be no problem for an accomplished trainer and veteran of early years like Ben? Surely Ben must have the voice of an angel and the musical awareness of a classically trained composer? The truth is I am terrible at singing. A musical friend of mine once said that every single note I sang was slightly out of tune. To paraphrase Eric Morecombe, I sing all of the wrong notes and all in the wrong order.
The mind-blowing impact of music
This posed a unique problem. I am passionate about giving my learners a hands-on training experience and even more passionate about practitioners being enthusiastic in their interactions with children. However, the thought of singing in front of other people filled me with dread. The only solution was that I was going to have to overcome my reluctance and terror and actually sing as part of the course.
I then began to research music and singing. I had absolutely no idea just how intrinsically important music and singing are for children. To say my mind was blown was an understatement. The neurological, emotional and even health benefits of singing are phenomenal and the fundamental importance of music for our whole species cannot be understated.
This was just what I needed to create a wonderful, insightful course for the learners but it also needed to be practical. So with renewed enthusiasm for singing, I prepared some songs for the session, some old, some made up and I even created a rap about early years to demonstrate how rhythm and rhyme activate short and long term memory.
A flashback to the 1980’s
Now just in case you think I am a complete stranger to the genre of rap music I should point out that I was actually in a rap band in my youth. Aged twelve I was a founder member of the “Double C Crew” (This stood for “Calver Crescent” the street I grew up on!) My friend Pete and I would “breakdance” on lino and make up raps. Obviously in the 1980’s we couldn’t afford decks so we simulated the noise of records scratching by zipping our pencil cases back and forth really fast. My rap name was “Red Rapping Hood” and my friend Pete called himself, “Pulsating Pete!”(I kid you not!).
My first and last music training
So I arrived at the venue, my brain full of facts and my heart full of song. The training took place at a local town hall which was not a venue conducive to a relaxed atmosphere, and there were over 30 people booked on the training. I should have known things would go badly when even before the training began not a single person chatted. The group sat in absolute silence waiting for the training to start. With some trepidation I looked down from my lectern and began the session with a simple song.
Silence. Not the blissful silence at the end of a long session with children but the awful, awkward silence of thirty people not joining in a single song. Every subsequent song was met with the kind of look reserved for that time when you tread on a bug and are trying to work out what kind of insect it was by examining the mangled carcass on your shoe. Except the shoe was the auditorium and I was the dead bug.
Don’t do the rap Ben!
How I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, “Don’t do the rap! Everything else has bombed so whatever you do don’t do the rap!”
I did the rap. If you have ever seen a middle-aged man rapping to 30 silent ladies for an agonising three minutes then you may still be feeling the trauma from the experience. I know I am. The session ended as it began. In silence.
Interestingly a majority of the learners gave the training 5 stars and one lady said it was the best training she had ever had. Go figure?
Keep on singing
Now don’t get me wrong. My experience of singing in front of adults has never stopped me singing with the vulnerable children I work with. In fact, knowing the science behind it has made me sing even more, albeit tunelessly, with my children. You don’t need to be able to sing to give joy through songs and music. If all the wrong notes in all the wrong order are sung with joy and enthusiasm then no body cares if you win a prize or scare away crows and it might just change your children’s lives.
Boogie Mites save the day!
So the upshot of this traumatic experience is that I have not delivered music training since and all of that wonderful neuroscience and research has been waiting for an outlet. Until now. Now I finally get to do the music session as it was always intended, by partnering with Boogie Mites, who actually make up and sing songs for children. I can blow people’s minds with the profound importance of music and not subject them to my singing. Join me (and bring your pencil cases) for a wonderful session on the joy of music and its profound importance for our children with songs by Boogie Mites and no tumbleweed.
Written by Ben Kingston-Hughes
Ben Kingston Hughes’ new book, “A Very Unusual Journey into Play” is out now and is full of neuroscience and practical stuff about Play.