Category Archives: imagination

An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?

Is music an expression of our reality or the creation of our reality? Where does technique meet possibility and where does learning meet technique? How can multiple truths and multiple perspectives exist in the same co-created space, and how can we express these multiple truths and perspectives with and through music? These are a few of the questions that were explored in this year’s Improvisation Class during the Cultures in Harmony-Atlas Music Festival.   The festival, held in Tunisia in the small town of Beni Mtir near the mountainous border with Algeria, seeks to implement Track II Diplomacy in the form of cultural diplomacy between Americans and the West, and Tunisians and the MENA region.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

The name “Improvisation Class” is merely a label for the class to exist within the structure of a mainly classical music summer camp for Tunisian youth. When exploring and redefining the possibility of musical creation and interaction, no clear title seems to exist. Similar to the lack of label, the way in which the class co-created musically through a dialogical process of learning and sharing is generally unheard of in what is considered classical music education and pedagogy. I believe what we co-created challenges how music education is overwhelming taught and calls to question what could be. In the words of the late education philosopher Maxine Greene, “Imagination has to do with possibilities; never settle with what is!”

I suspect one of the greatest challenges music education faces today (or even yesterday as a violist myself who grew up completely immersed in a classical music education regimen) in our ever globalizing world is exactly what Maxine Greene speaks of: the imagination of possibilities. So often, we musicians are trained rather than taught. Our musical goals focus on digesting, and external benchmarks instead of creating. And so often, the flow of knowledge is merely from teacher to music student without even the consideration of how the music student can and should add to the flow of knowledge and understanding. This translates beyond the space of learning, but even to who is considered a musical creator versus a musical vessel. In the current music education environment in the classical music world, young musicians are often expected to follow this one-way hierarchy of teacher-knows-all and student-knows-none-until-told. This issue is not exclusive to the classical music world; its traces can be found in the teaching of other music genres, such as jazz, and inadvertently, continues to marginalize and undermine music genres, such as hip hop and rap, in music education. [1]

Now for those musicians and music educators getting ready to run for it after these last sentences, don’t go anywhere just yet! Join me for a moment in questioning not what music education is, but rather what it could be. I believe there are possibilities in which a youth musician achieves musical greatness, and musical creator. And in this process it is not only the responsibility of the musician or music educator, but as well the youth musician. How does a music educator create this type of dialogical space with her or his students? What are the benefits of doing so in the first place? And finally, why question our current system of musical learning by asking what could be? Elements of our Improvisation Class can perhaps shed light on these very questions. Of course, all learning should be contextual to each space of learning, which suggests adopted ideas and concepts from here must be contextualized to their new settings, too.

Our Improvisation Class consisted of around 25 youth musicians from the ages of nine to 19 all with various levels of experience, whether on the violin, piano, guitar, voice, sax, darbuka, and accordion. I sought to provide a certain structure that enabled a few key elements that could lead to the possibilities of musical greatness and musical creator through our dialogical space, where knowledge, understanding, and skills were transferable to outside musical and non-musical spaces. Whereas the process of sharing musical knowledge and understanding should be a two-way street, I believe musician and music educator is responsible for providing the initial structure in which creativity can thrive.

1. All ideas are welcome within our fundamental social agreement of listening, respect, and responsibility to our peers, our creations, and ourselves.

We all have a natural desire to feel appreciated. When we feel appreciated, we are more willing to confront vulnerability positively as moments of growth and self-transformation (see Brené Brown’s TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability). In providing structure in which creativity can flourish, I wanted to welcome everyone into a setting where youth musicians felt safe or at least safer in sharing their ideas, feelings, and emotions musically and verbally. In our entire group we all agreed, including myself as a facilitator-participant, to listen, respect, and be responsible to each other, our creations, and ourselves.

2. Every youth musician has valid experiences, and has gained understanding and knowledge through these experiences, in which to teach and share with the group.

In harmony with challenging what education philosopher Paulo Freire termed the “banking concept” where students are looked upon as empty vessels awaiting for their teacher to fill their mind with knowledge, our Improvisation Class was a problem-posing (Freire, 2000) space in which peer learning flourished and youth musicians built upon previous musical and social experiences. Progressive education philosopher John Dewey speaks of experiences as a continuum of quality doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007), which builds knowledge and understanding, ultimately leading to personal growth and openness to further growth through continuous doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007). The first day of our class began with a spontaneous jam session that morphed from the original beats of my rhythm sticks on the chairs in our circle to saxophone solos flowing on top of violin, viola, percussion, guitar, and piano. In other words, youth musicians’ previous musical knowledge and experiences were acknowledged and respected straight from the beginning.

3. The invitation is there. I am not the absolute teacher; they are not the absolute students. We each have differing responsibilities and roles to play in the space we build together, which contributes in a unique way to the dialogue and music we co-create.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

In setting up the space where peer learning could flourish, I chose to implant opportunities of teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork amongst the youth musicians. I might have overseen the spark of certain conversations and musical ideas, though ultimately, each youth musician had the freedom to take the conversation and musical dialogue where she or he wanted. The most important factor in enabling this location of possibility was each youth musicians’ agreement to enter our social agreement where each person’s freedom was dependent on the other’s. As Alfred Schütz describes in Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationships, “Each of them [musician] has, therefore, to take into account what the other has to execute in simultaneity. He/She has not only to interpret her/his own part, which as such remains necessarily fragmentary, but he/she has also to anticipate the other player’s interpretation of his/her – the other’s – part and, even more, the other’s anticipations of his/her own execution. Either’s freedom of interpreting composer’s thought is restrained by the freedom granted to the other.” (Schütz, 1951, p. 94-95)

These three elements of structure created the possibility for the youth musicians to be:

  1. Loyal to the local/known; Openness to the new/unknown (see education philosopher David Hansen’s Cosmopolitanism and Education)
  2. Self-express through multi-modal means, putting youth musicians constructively on-edge from the start
  3. Co-creating a space equally belonging to each one of us in “withness”

In planting the initial structure of the Improvisation Class, I was able to put our adventure on pathways to discover deeper societal issues, with and through musical co-creation, that were taboo in Tunisian society and across multiple societies. A big element of the class was the focus on certain social/environmental/political issues that were self chosen by each youth musician, and then grouping together youth musicians interested in overlapping issues, such as privilege and war, peace, and justice to work together to explore those topics further musically and with dialogue in their new, micro community. This also presented the opportunity for each community of youth musicians to establish their very own social agreement for their group, describing how they would create and share with each other. The results of each community’s focus on their various topics led to authentic music making with the purpose of learning, both musically and socially, all as equals with various responsibilities. To push this concept even further, each exercise surrounding these topics included elements of individual teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork, in addition to group teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork. Here are a few of the exercises that combined all of these elements:

  • Musical Sensitivity Line, where youth musicians stood in a line in front of the rest of the class, and first created a number of free-flowing stories verbally as individuals and then as a team, and then musical compositions as individuals and then as a team.
Music Sensitivity Line

Credit: Ny No

  • Human DJ, the co-creation of a human soundtrack where one youth musician is the DJ and determines the sounds and rhythms of each youth musician in the group. Then, the DJ rejoins the circle and a new DJ from the group takes the stage.
Human DJ

Credit: Ny No

  • Teaching of a new musical idea by each member in each community, and then the entire community choosing at least two newly learned musical ideas to teach to the other two communities, and vice versa.
  • Choosing any two new musical ideas from any community, whether your own or another’s, to create a cumulative composition for the final concert

Some community’s cumulative musical co-creations were a reflection or statement based upon their specific issue, whereas others did not mirror their issue. However, every group nonetheless underwent a spherical, deepening process of building knowledge and understanding based upon past experiences and new experiences through multi-modal means to co-create what did not exist before. This process is on the pathway of musical creator and musical greatness.

In summation, it is crucial that we, musicians and music educators, question whether we are co-creating with our students spaces of learning and teaching that foster the imagination of possibilities. There is so much more to describe about our Improvisation Class’s six sessions together, yet not enough room or enough words. Each day could have it’s entirely own reflection. What is clear is how our Improvisation Class was youth-centered with horizontal learning, and inclusive and participatory practices supporting peer learning, authentic music making and learning, and critical thinking of deeper issues in our societies and the role we, and especially youth, can play in making music that impacts our world. I believe these transferable skills will translate beyond our Improvisation Class’s special space, and into less safe spaces in everyday life.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

And finally, is this a negation or replacement of the current classical music structure? No, it’s not. Replacing one ideology with another never solves the root issues at hand. In John Dewey’s Experience and Education, he does not advocate for traditional education to be completed replaced by progressive education without thought and deep investigation of the meaning behind both. “For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism’ becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms’ that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” (Dewey, 2007, p.6) I invite you all to be the stranger in the development of new educational spaces that constructively question what music education has been and what it could be, and finally, to invite our youth musicians to do the same.

[1] For more on this, please read David A. Williams and Randall Allsup.

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APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2014, October 19). An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?. Retrieved from: https://musicintervention.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/an-invitation-to-question-how-can-music-education-become-a-more-dialogical-space/

REFERENCES

1. Brown, B. (TED Talk). (2010, June). The Power of Vulnerability. Podcast retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

2. Dewey, J. (2005).  Art as experience (pp.45-55). Penguin.

3. Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster. 

4. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

5. Greene, Maxine. “Inaugural Maxine Greene Lecture.” 2013 Preemptive Education Conference. Teachers College, New York. 26 Sept. 2013. Speech.

6. Hansen, D. (2010). Cosmopolitanism and education: A view from the ground.The Teachers College Record, 112(1).

7. Schütz, Alfred. “Making music together: A study in social relationship.” Social Research (1951): 76-97.

Structure and Creativity: Learning about and for Peacebuilding & Musicmaking

The field of peacebuilding is ever growing and expanding with new partnerships forming between state and non-state actors through more creative ways of access enabled by advancing technological platforms.  Amidst a rather negative media that seems to be more willing to tell stories of conflict, rather than stories of peacebuilding and reconciliation, it is incredibly important to create a stronger emphasis on exposing communities to the integral activism that is occurring perhaps even in their own backyards.

As the field of peacebuilding continues to grow, so too does the development of critical peacebuilding education increasingly with a focus on music and the expressive arts. One such example of this was brought to my attention recently.

The grammy winning Colombian musician Juanes, a familiar name in my own music library, recently partnered with the United States Institute of Peace Global Peacebuilding Center (GPC) to address his activism as a musician and peacebuilder through music.  This partnership, between state and non-state actor nonetheless with music as a medium for social activism, perked my interest. Not only does this partnership facilitate and serve as an example of the many ways in which music can be utilized as a tool for social activism, but in addition it is a resource perfect for the classroom readily accessible through the Internet and technology.

Searching further on the GPC website, I found a short video segment created by GPC recognizing the importance of youth and peacebuilding pointing to the growing power of youth via social media and technology.

In the music classes I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays at KIPP Star Middle School in Harlem, I used both the GPC’s Juanes video segment and the Bukra fi Mishmish music video, written and performed by Israeli and Palestinian youth members of Heartbeat, as examples of how music is powerful. From there, we asked ourselves: what is our Hope List? What do we hope for ourselves, our families, our communities, our world? Our Hope Lists, which will ultimately serve as the foundation of the last song(s) of the semester, were shared via an exercise called a Sensitivity Line (to view, please visit the KIPP Star Musical Collective blog).

The Sensitivity Line is a group performance exercise that was taught to me by PYE- Global: Partners for Youth Empowerment during the Seeds of Peace-Educators Course I attended last August. The Sensitivity Line gives each student the spotlight to shine, yet while in a group atmosphere with group support. By putting the student constructively “on edge”, the interest in delivering a rewarding outcome in front of peers increases the student’s affinity for self-efficacy, thus building self-confidence, too.

I was impressed with the overall results of this classroom activity on many levels. My students:

1. Had fun!

2. Learned new aspects about music, musicmaking, and peacebuilding.

3. Deepened their understanding about themselves, their peers, and their communities.

4. Expressed critical consciousness, solidarity, and imagination.

5. Were constructively put “on edge” by performing through the Sensitivity Line

6. Experiencing the concepts of drafting and process.

I look forward to the possibility of many more classroom activities such as this one, which facilitate growth and creativity, while teaching about and for the subjects on hand. After all, great partnerships and imagination made this classroom activity possible.

(And by great partnerships, I am also referring to the genius and loving nature of my best friend who created the idea of the Hope List.)

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I attempt to cite all of the sources used in my writings and research as correctly as possible, so please adopt the same policy toward the works presented here and as well my own writings by citing this blog’s findings correctly. This blog is meant for sharing, not plagiarism. Thank you for your respect.

A Bird’s Eye View: Welcome to Class!

 
The purpose of this blog series, “A Bird’s Eye View,” is to give a periphery overlook into my classes at Teachers College, Columbia University. The majority of topics will derive from class assignments, specifically this semester from the course Creativity and Problem Solving in Music Education. Besides sharing experiences in learning in exposing a process of learning, I hope that beneficial insight from the classroom will seep into these posts for you- the reader.
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Earlier this week, I began my graduate school studies at Teachers College, Columbia University pursuing a MA in International Educational Development with a focus on peace education. A say what? Yes, a MA in International Educational Development with a focus on peace education. Don’t worry, many others already pointed out that the title is long and semi-baffling. Before you ask the next question, let me take a step back and then elaborate further.

Comparative education is described by comparative education academic I.L. Kandel (1933) as the study of “general education, elementary and secondary, in the light of the forces- political, social, and cultural-which determine the character of national systems of education” (qtd. in Bajaj, 118). Now place comparative education into an international context where all of the above is researched at a global level, with the added intent of producing international content and programs that reflect research and theories that also foster intercultural understanding by bringing “together students, teachers, and scholars from different nations to learn about and from each other” (Epstein, 918). This, my friends, is international education development.  Both comparative education and international education intersect with peace education. All three of these terms are connected to relatively new, expanding fields reacting to current events and meeting the needs of our current globalizing world.

The study of international educational development can entail many focuses. Mine will center on how the creative process of music is used as a tool for social activism to empower youth and transform conflict.

Our first class discussion in Creativity and Problem Solving in Music Education revolved around the usual topics of “what is music?” and “who is a musician,” yet in a much more fascinating way ushered by inspiration of John Cage amidst his centennial. John Cage, best well known for his piece 4’33”, was a controversial modern composer and innovator who pushed the ideas of music and sound, performance, and purpose.

Of course we in class were given the chance to experiment in the making of all sorts of creative music/sound/noise with whatever we found in the classroom. Not going to lie, it was actually empowering at times and fun! I started with my Starbucks coffee cup, and then moved to a drum stick and blinds. That’s right, I was playing the blinds.

The reflective portion of the assignment was to divulge into what is considered beautiful music/sound and, when we perceive music/sound as ugly, why is that so? Two great readings, which are included (Greene – I still wonder at how unaware I was (2000) & Sheehy – Children Sound) for your curiosity as well, were utilized to supplement our writing. Many of my peers spoke about the sounds they heard in New York City or the performing we did in class. For whatever reason my reflective piece took on a whole different edge. I’m sure if John Cage read it, he would understand. “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else. Here we are now.” (Artificeofeternity, 2009)

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“It’s obvious this page not for any of you, and its more obvious we don’t want to deal with any one of you at any level. stop telling us your stories you are not the case owners, we are the case owner . so stop telling us your stories to gain our sympathize. And how you asking for equality, I will come to your place and steal your house and then when we rise the case at the court I will ask them to divide your house for two halves between you and me, is this equal for you?”      –Commentator A from Facebook, retrieved from online article in 972 Magazine

Here it is again tonight. I can see and hear the “angry barking,” though the only thing in front of me is text from an online magazine on my laptop screen. From there, I take a big, deep sigh. The feeling of my pulse as the palms of my hands rest on my temples is pronounced enough at this point, that I as well hear the thumping. All of a sudden what is gray, separates to black and white. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is screaming at me once again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs and this is nothing against them! I use the word “barking” and in fact, “angry barking,” because that is what commentary becomes on the Internet when discussing controversial topics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or perhaps, it’s the oh-so-regular topics discussed by controversial people). Amazingly, the “angry barking” is about whether or not a group of Israelis should be allowed to join their Palestinian counterparts in attending a concert this week in Amman, Jordan of a well-known music ensemble from Beirut, Lebanon, in light of historical events/historical stories/historical hearsay. This sentiment, the rejection of developing “normal” relations with Israelis and recognizing the establishment of the State of Israel, is known as anti-normalization. Though I do not personally know the people involved in the “angry barking,” I hear in my mind the escalation of their oscillating timbres as they duke it out virtually with one another. This reality, coupled with the sound effects, is the mind-game we enter when involved, connected, or a part of this conflict. It is not beautiful. And yet this very experience, of only small stature of many that affect Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Christians, concerned peoples, etc., leads to the question: how do we overcome from here and find what is beautiful in the not beautiful?

A month ago, I participated in an Expressive Arts Educators Course at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Portland, Maine. Seeds of Peace, to simply cut and paste from their website, “inspires and equips new generations of leaders from regions of conflict with the relationships, understanding, and skills needed to advance lasting peace.” (Seeds of Peace) Though Seeds of Peace programming is usually for youth, their various educators’ courses are for leaders and educators who are involved with reconciliation activities at the grassroots level, producing curriculum for these programs, or administrators in the school systems. At the Expressive Arts Educators Course, 35 artists (from visual art and theatre to music and spoken word) and/or educators represented of eight countries came together for two weeks to undergo a deeper understanding of the power of the arts to transform conflict and empower youth. Besides instructional class time, we all were placed in “home-groups” to discuss topics and reflect within a smaller, intimate setting, underwent group physical activities, and prepared a performance for the end of the course that encompassed what was discovered in deepening our understanding of each others’ narratives through our various art forms.

While reading the two articles for class after the “angry barking” episode, I began to reflect further on my time at Seeds of Peace. An incredible amount of the lessons in both of these articles are exactly what the organizers of the course were trying to construct for us through creatively exploring, learning, and sharing our narratives within and through our art forms. All of the participants at the camp were adults of varying ages. Don’t let that trick you into thinking we all acted maturely and intelligently no matter the situation. There were tough times, including several verbal explosions between members of different ethnicities (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus, the U.S., India, and Pakistan were all represented). Even one member left mid-camp in tears; the rest of the group in shock of loosing what they had thought was a safe space. What did our facilitators use to rebuild the safe space that was shattered and assist us all in finding the ways in which we were able to express ourselves again? They had us reconnect, deeper through art, opening the space wider for our “inner-kiddo,” similarly as to what Sheehy describes, to feel safe enough to appear and interact with “the other.” Also, the final performance served as a team-building activity where we took artistic risks together and possessed a responsibility to each other to succeed.

In essence, we had discovered a freedom of some sort. With our imaginations vivaciously leading the way to our creativity unrestricted, we became more than just our labels, not just to the joyous audience present, but perhaps most importantly to ourselves. It was beautiful! If anything, the line Maxine Greene quotes of Sartre “”at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative” because “the work of art, from whichever side you approach it” (1949, pp. 62-63) is an act of confidence in the freedom of human begins. We feel that freedom here—to interpret, to reflect, and (now and then) change our lives”” resonates with the successful outcome, artistically and communally, of the final performance (Greene & qtd. in Greene, 198). We had surpassed our “angry barking” episode leading to the possibility of a shared future. Like the quote of Emily Dickinson in Greene’s essay: “The Possible’s slow fuse is lit/ By the Imagination.” (Greene & qtd. in Greene, 198).

Within the thread of my camp reflection, I call to mind the various texts I’ve read as of late in preparation for the awesome event of graduate school. The writings of Paulo Freire jumped off the page for me, as well various others like John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Now that I am here, I’ve read for another class several chapters of the Encyclopedia of Peace Education, which deconstructs all of the various terms and meanings in peace education, such as human rights education, global citizen education, structural violence, etc., and Galtung’s article on cultural violence.

Here is where I find myself at a current crossroad.

For as much as we may feel the essence of freedom through the exploration of art in all of its imagination and expressiveness, what about the structural violence on the outside which continues to keep the system afresh of top-dog in power marginalizing the underdog through lack of services and opportunities, fragmenting a population further beyond its repression of identity and culture? How do we encounter or counter this structural violence, which can be or lead to direct violence, through the arts and even more specifically, through music education? We at camp did surpass an ugly point through music and the arts in America, but what will happen now as we’ve returned to our respective countries with the “angry barking” of the media and the extremists? Can it last? Will we be able to expand upon what we learned from skills to our relationships with each other?

I leave you with these questions, which also I ask myself while searching for how to confront these issues, prepare curriculum and programming for the Israeli and Palestinian youth music non-profit Heartbeat, and keep updated on the events and issues in Israel/Palestine: What does it mean to sing about freedom and experience freedom through music, when beholden to structural violence and societal pressures like anti-normalization? What role can music education play in confronting structural violence? What do you think?

*Here’s a link to the music of Mashrou’ Leila, the music group performing in Amman, if you want to take a listen! (http://mashrou3leila.com/?album=el-hal-romancy)

I attempt to cite all of the sources used in my writings and research as correctly as possible, so please adopt the same policy toward the works presented here and as well my own writings by citing this blog’s findings correctly. This blog is meant for sharing, not plagiarism. Thank you for your respect.

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References

1. Al-Bream, Ruba (2012, September 9). Jordanians for the Cultural Boycott of the Zionist Entity. [Msg 20]. Message posted to Facebook Page

2. Artificeofeternity. (2009, August 1). John Cage: “Mushroom Haiku” and “At the Middle” [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNzVQ8wRCB0

3. Bajaj, Monisha (Eds.). (2008). Encyclopedia of Peace Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

4. Epstein, E. H. (1994). Comparative and International Education: Overview and Historical Development.In T. Husén & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Education (2nded. pp. 918-923). New York: Pergamon.

5. joelyhberg. (2010, December 15). John Cage’s 4’33” [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4

6. Seeds of Peace (www.seedsofpeace.org)

7. spncr525. (2009, May 11). John Cage- Water Walk [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63HoYXUeUTA

Bibliography

1.  Bajaj, Monisha (Eds.). (2008). Encyclopedia of Peace Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

2. Galtung, Johan. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27 (3), 291-305. http://jpr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/27/3/291

3. Greene, M. (1978) Toward Wide-Awakeness: An Argument for the Arts and Humanities in Education, from Landscapes of Learning. New York: Teachers College Press., pp. 161-167

4. Epstein, E. H. (1994). Comparative and International Education: Overview and Historical Development.In T. Husén & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Education (2nded. pp. 918-923). New York: Pergamon.

5. Sheehy, E. (1952) “Children and Sound” from There’s Music in Children. New York: Holt Publishing. 1-13