Like all forms of music, global music is good for both mind and spirit. But it has the added the benefit of helping children become more aware of the diversity of the world around them. Is world travel with your kids not in the budget? Why not try bringing the music home?
For her first birthday, I bought my daughter a set of bongos. Real ones from a store specializing in percussion instruments. She loved to drag them into the middle of the living room and beat on them with her chubby hands, delighting in her power to create various tones and rhythms.
Why bongos? Part of it was practical. Bongos are ideal for young children because they can be played while sitting on the floor, and they do not require highly developed fine motor skills.
But the bigger reason was that bongos—and the global music classes that inspired them—represented a particular hope I had—and have—for my children.
There was a time when ordinary people made music together for the sheer joy of it, or to help lighten the monotony of their work, or to express some deep and shared feeling. Celebration. Lament. Protest. Gratitude. Although this has become rare in our culture, there are many places in the world where traditional music continues to bring people together to sing and dance and play and become part of something bigger than themselves.
This is where bongos and frugal living connect.
Frugal living is about using what you have in the best way you can to get more of what matters to you. As a parent, a big part of what matters to me is raising children who are empathetic, cooperative, and aware that they are part of a bigger world.
How can music help?
After many years of bringing my young children to global music classes, and investing in a small library of CDs from around the world, I’ve observed a few things.
Global music gives kids a taste of other cultures
In combination with picture books and food, music is a great way to help children realize that the world is much bigger than their own familiar piece of it. When we came home from music class singing a song from a new place, my kids and I would always check the atlas to find out where it came from. Sometimes we would go to the library and search out stories from that country. If we knew someone from there, we would ask them to teach us songs they remembered from their own childhood. We tried to take in local festivals connected with different places around the world. Global music opened my kids’ minds and hearts to a world beyond their own experience. When they were very young, it was simply about having fun and sharing someone’s else’s celebrations. But as the children get older, this awareness of life in other places is developing into genuine concern for peace and justice around the world.
Global Music brings people together
Unlike sports, music is inherently cooperative rather than competitive. Whether it is a group of pre-schoolers gathered around a drum, elementary age kids singing in a choir, or teenagers playing in a band or string orchestra, making music in a group gives children the unique experience of working together to create something they could not accomplish individually. Because it transcends language, music allows people from many places and cultures to collaborate—even in the face of cultural and political differences—to make something beautiful. For a vivid example of this phenomenon at work, see the documentary The Music of Strangers, which tells the story of Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble.
Global Music expands our sense of what is beautiful
A few years ago my children and I went to a performance called The Marco Polo Project. The programme followed the travels of Marco Polo from the Mediterranean, through the Middle East, Central Asia, southern Russia, all the way to China. Not only did the concert include varied instruments, modes and scales, there were also different styles of singing, some of it very different from what most westerners are used to hearing. At one point one of my children leaned over and whispered, “That sounds really weird…but I like it!” I smiled at her honesty, but also at her openness to something unfamiliar. Learning to appreciate and enjoy new sounds is one small step toward becoming open to other differences—including recognizing beauty in people different from ourselves.
So, as a new school year begins and I plan my budget for activities, I’m going to make space for music—especially music from around the world. Concerts. CDs. Instruments. Of course there is no guarantee that bongos and global music classes will transform children into compassionate citizens of the world.
But in a world as fragmented as ours, every little bit helps.
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Author: Laura Alary Google