Ella Jenkins at the NAEYC Conference By Kitti Pecka, Head Teacher
Ella Jenkins, one of my favorite children’s musicians, spoke and sang at the National Conference for the Education of Young Children in November. Jenkins has been working to benefit children’s music education for decades and was celebrating her thirtieth anniversary with Smithsonian Folkways recording studio (www.si.edu/folkways).
Jenkins began by acknowledging the loss we all suffered in September 2001. We sang “Shabat Shalom” together with hands clasped and heads bowed, sharing a musical moment of healing. Jenkins spoke of the therapeutic capacity of music to help us all in times of difficulty and to join us in one voice to express our feelings. When people sing together, each singer has a personal as well as a communal experience, the combined voices adding to the expressiveness of the music. Through song, too, we connect with other cultures and our own mixed cultural backgrounds.
To commemorate her thirty years of celebrating diverse cultures, Jenkins performed songs from her album “You Sing a Song.” Without lecturing, she also conveyed the important concepts to be instilled through music. First, to illustrate thinking tunes, as she calls learning to think musically, Jenkins used some repetition with simple, delightful melodies in a limited range of pitch—for example, “You Sing a Song.” To make repetition more interesting, she made small changes in verse, such as “You clap your hands and I’ll clap my hands,” and other actions involving whole-body participation. This concept then leads to feeling rhythms, becoming sensitive to the beat of the music. Call-and-response songs such as “Did You Feed My Cow” and “Who Fed the Chickens” require children to follow the rhythm that the leader establishes. Finally, becoming sensitive to the expressiveness of music happens through modeling lyrics in another language. Jenkins sang “This Train” with great emotional content: in a warm singing voice, slow but lively, she picked up the pace to convey energy. This concept of music comes naturally when you are singing something you cherish.
Singing with their children is the most important musical training parents can give their children. By singing with feeling the songs they love, adding movement and simple instruments, parents will prepare children not only for a lifelong love of music but also for myriad skills and potentials we have yet to discover. Using recorded music, such as Ella Jenkins’s many albums, can augment parents’ repertoire and inspire family sing-alongs for years to come.