Happy Mother’s Day!

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. And that’s reason enough to consider some connections between music, mothers, and their children.

By the last trimester, an unborn child has fully functioning hearing. An unborn can recognize a mother’s voice, and can differentiate this voice from any other. As Ruth Fridman explains, singing to an unborn child establishes “a prenatal bond which contains tenderness on the part of the parents to be, a promise of protection, and the wish to see and hold the baby in their arms . . . It is of great significance for babies to hear music . . . during the gestation period. The mother’s emotional expressions benefit both herself and her baby.”

Moreover, parents and other adult caregivers are predisposed to interact with their infants by means of emotionally charged proto-musical vocalizations, or “motherese” (sometimes called baby talk, parentese, and so on). Motherese combines variations of pitch (melodic-type contours), timbre, rhythm, and accents that are the sonic building blocks of more sophisticated adult singing (such as lullabies). Because humans acquire the ability to distinguish changes in pitch and loudness in utero, it’s not surprising that infants learn to match some proto-musical elements after repeated parent-infant interactions.

Caregivers use motherese to sooth, arouse, communicate, and play in caring and loving ways with their pre-linguistic infants. The musical-affective characteristics of adult-infant interactions establish and strengthen emotional bonds between caregivers and infants. Motherese also includes proto-musical play, and proto-musical play gives infants a way of engaging in and acquiring the foundations of social competence and confidence in a safe, risk-free, enjoyable, and participatory context that is fundamental to the development of their social cognition and “domain-general cultural competence.” If such emotional bonding or “primary intersubjectivity” fails to occur via early motherese and proto-musical interactions, infants may suffer.

The values of motherese are clear. In a highly social species like ours, an infant’s chances of surviving depend on “fitness” beyond physical fitness, namely, “cultural fitness” and social-emotional fitness. These qualities follow from parent-infant bonding and primary intersubjectivity and anchor an individual’s ability to interact cooperatively with others and contribute to group cohesion.

Lullabies Matter

There are numerous projects around the world that support the above. For example, in a women’s prison near Oporto, Portugal, early childhood music specialists help incarcerated mothers learn lullabies they can sing to their infants to promote mother-infant bonding.

Additionally, meet “The Lullaby Project.” According to Carnegie Hall:

The Lullaby Project pairs pregnant women and new mothers with professional artists to write and sing personal lullabies for their babies, supporting maternal health, aiding child development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. In New York City, the project reaches mothers in hospitals, homeless shelters, schools, and at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Extending across the country and through several international pilot programs, the Lullaby Project enables partner organizations to support families in their own communities.

See Rhiannon Giddens performing one of the lullabies, “Mansell’s Waltz,” from the new album, released April 20, 2018 for Decca Records.

Hallelujah!

Meet the Killard House School. Located in Donaghadee, North Ireland, the Killiard House School’s motto is: “Together We Can.” The school is dedicated to providing for special needs students with moderate learning difficulties, speech language difficulties, and those on the autistic spectrum. The teachers, staff, administrators, and community work together as a team—or “family,” as the school states—to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Music Education

In December, 2016, the school’s choir programmed Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” with Christmas-themed lyrics. The soloist, then 10-year old Kaylee Rogers, is a Killard House School student and a member of the school’s choir. About her performance, the Principal of Killard House School Collin Miller stated: “For a child who came in and wouldn’t really talk, wouldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing.” Music education can transform lives. This performance is just one example.

I Am; We Are

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

Mad World

 

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

 

Same Love

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

We Don’t Stop

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

The Staples Singers Will Take You There

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

Love Trumps Hate

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering, we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day from today (08/16/2017) until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

If social betterment includes exposing all forms of injustice and preparing future music makers to “put their music to work” for positive social transformations—as many classical, pop, rock, and hip-hop performers and composers (and others) are doing and have done for decades—then we begin to see the potential of what we call “artistic citizenship education.”

Artistic citizenship goes beyond academic talking and writing about social justice because it emphasizes actions for transformation. “Intellectualizing”—reading, writing, and discussing—do not by themselves move people to take meaningful actions for change. To motivate people to join a social movement of any kind, small or large, it’s essential that they engage actively.

For example, in addition to learning to make and understand music, students in school and university music programs might—should?—learn to compose, arrange, perform, and record songs that expose and challenge a wide range of injustices. These are concrete, reflective-musical “doings” that have the potential to develop students’ lifelong dispositions to act positively for change.

Engaging in some kind of action is essential because people’s identities “transform as they become socially active, and actions for social justice create new categories of participants, and political groups: identities modify in the course of social interaction” (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly, 126). As Jean Anyon (2005) says, “One develops a political identity and commitment … from walking, marching, singing, attempting to vote, sitting in, or otherwise demonstrating with others” (142).

Musical actions of all kinds, small and large, often rise to the level of what Stephen Duncombe calls “ethical spectacles.”

An ethical spectacle is a “dream” imagined (“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King) that’s made concrete when members/supporters of socially just movements—for example, is there an action-group called “Music(k)ing Educators for Freedom and Justice”?—participate democratically in creating the spectacle. Their actions express their resistance. (171).

Duncombe cites the example of the American civil rights movement in which leaders often modeled their interracial “beloved community” in the ways they organized and carried out their protests, which included singing and playing music in local, regional, and national situations. In these cases, music making and listening were not only emotional escapes and sanctuaries; performances were not usually “staged”; instead, music making, listening, and moving were participatory. The music and social meanings of ethical spectacles are embodied and expressed in the actions of transforming the oppressors and the oppressed.

An ethical spectacle “demonstrates” against oppressions. Ethical spectacles help to disrupt cultural hierarchies, support and build safe communities, promote diversity, and engage with reality while asking what new realities might be possible (Duncombe, 126).

Our school students and future music educators can—we believe they should—learn to think critically about and be prepared to create small and large ethical-musical spectacles in/for their schools and communities.

Crucially, if we conceive “music” not as a noun with rigidly encoded power relationships but, instead, as a process of mutual music making, shared musical-ethical responsibilities, and reciprocal musical power sharing toward social projects involving sympathy and empathy, then we might find major pathways to social reconciliations.

Musical Identities

Many kind thanks to Raymond MacDonaldDavid J. Hargreaves, and Dorothy Miell for including us in your recent volume, Handbook of Musical Identities.

There, we argue that explanations of why and how music making and listening contribute to many kinds of identity formation—including musical, personal, social, cultural, gendered, and ethical identity development—should begin with a concept of personhood. In other words, selfhood and personal identity are not identical with personhood, but primary dimensions of it. Part one of our chapter presents an embodied-enactive concept of personhood. Part two provides philosophical arguments that support our concept of personhood and explain the roles of empathy, ethical idealization, and moral communities in the co-construction of personhood, musical identities, and musical experiences. And part three knits parts one and two together by offering reasons why music making, listening, and musical praxes can serve as “affordances” for lifelong experiences of identity formation and “full human flourishing,” or eudaimonia.