Last week I shared a little regarding this wonderful theme for Music in Our Schools month. It is such a wonderful theme, I wanted to share a few more thoughts.

Our society has become progressively more passive consumers of music. Think about your day – there is often background music in stores and restaurants; people play their music while they perform tasks throughout the day; music is the sound track for commercials, shows and movies.  Yet we spend little time as a society actively listen. Many spend even less time creating music. For me the theme “Music Lasts a Lifetime” has more to do with active music listening and creating than with passive listening. As a music therapist, I view my use of music as an active process of being with others within and around the music.

What I observe with children

Children, according to my husband, are sound generators – which in some ways is true. Most infants cry when they are hunger, need changed, or are uncomfortable. But it is much more than that. Babies begin to coo and interact with those around them. Most people when speaking to infants use a higher pitched, slower paced voice. It is interesting to observe lullabies exist across cultures and have similarities in structure. Psychologist Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto suggests that:

“…music was crucial to both bonding with and soothing babies, as well as allowing mothers to get on with other tasks that boosted survival.” (1)

In my community music groups, I observe many typically developing children around 18 months of age beginning to sing portions of songs during groups. Parents share stories of how their children 18 months through age 5 sing songs from our sessions and create their own words to these tunes. Children in these groups begin engaging in playing instruments, singing and moving to music.

What I observe with older adults

Most of the older adults I have had the pleasure of working with have lived in group settings such as assisted living centers or skilled nursing facilities. Their musical backgrounds are varied. Most report themselves as being consumers of music rather than being instrumentalist or vocalists.

Yet, I observe a majority of residents expressing an interest in and attending music related events within the facility. And, those who attend my music therapy sessions verbalize a lot of joy and satisfaction in being a part of the music making process within the group.

What I observe with the two ages together making music

There is something special that happens when these two generations are brought together in music-based programs. Across a 4-6 week series, I see increasing amounts of conversation between the two generations. Members of both generations will ask about others absent from the group. Older adults seem willing to reach a little higher and play a little longer when the children are present and engaging in a music experience with them than they would without the children present. The children delight in helping distribute and gather equipment to their “grandfriends”.  The children look to the “grandfriends” for additional cues and for assistance.

Simple put, the music creates a structure and a space for these two generations to together experience life and have a reason to interact.

What to do with this information

It really is music to last a lifetime. I urge you to support music in your schools, in your community and in your own home. Please share in the comments below how you are supporting or will support music. I’d love to see what area has the greatest interest.

If you are in the area of Hays, Kansas I welcome the opportunity to assist you in developing music therapy programs for these populations. Please contact me for more information. If you live outside the Hays, Kansas area and are interested in similar programs, please visit the American Music Therapy Association and/or Certification Board for Music Therapists sites to find a board certified music therapist in your area.

(1) Balter, Michael “Seeking the Key to Music” SCIENCE Nov. 12, 2004: 1120-1122.