As children in my Music Together classes get older, some of them start to interact more directly with me in class, and oftentimes that “interaction” takes the form of “interruption.” A few years ago, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl in one of my classes would call out, “Old MacDonald!” in between songs, or right in the middle of a song itself. Her mom would get so embarrassed and try to get her to stop, to no avail. Honestly, the child’s calls for “Old MacDonald” didn’t bother me at all. In fact, that semester we sang lots of snippets of that barnyard song here, there, and everywhere during our classes, which turned out to be a whole lot of fun for everyone.
Last week, a snow storm kept all but one family from coming to my 2nd Wednesday class, and the one child who came happens to be following in the footsteps of her “Old MacDonald” predecessor. During our regular class time, this little girl will call out commands of one sort or another, causing her parents to cringe. In our teeny-tiny snow storm class last week, she felt free to amp up her commands, even requesting a little “Old MacDonald” at one point — and she, her mom and I drummed and sang about all kinds of animals on that farm. She glowed with her sense of power and purpose, and I was thrilled.
You see, these two little girls, like so many other children I have (and have had) in my classes, are conducting. They are generating ideas and seeing what they have the power to create. Sometimes, they want to see if they can get us to stop, usually by yelling, “Stop!” or, “No!” Sometimes, they want to see if they can change the song we’re singing (a-la “The Old MacDonald Girls”). Sometimes, they try to get us to play a certain instrument, usually by shouting, “Drums!” Over time, these children have seen me accept and include what they and their classmates bring to class: I mirror the way they shake their eggs, stomp their feet, and wave their scarves; I sing back to them the notes they sing, and I chant back to them the rhythms they spontaneously vocalize; I honor their child-way of making music, and they know it. They already sense the ways in which I have been acknowledging them as informal conductors, and now they are striking out to be more active and assertive in their conducting. This is wonderful!
Now, sometimes I will STOP when they call out that request, and sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I will sing a different song when they make the demand, and sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I will pull out the requested instrument, and sometimes I won’t. I’m still the teacher, the leader of the class, and I have a better sense of what will actually work in class than they do (at least, I hope I do!). But I welcome their shout-outs — those conductor moments tell me that they are internalizing music-making and are ready to practice leading others in this safe space. I’m comfortable enough in my teaching to say, “Yes,” or, “No,” to their conducting attempts, and I know they understand and respect that in me.
So, if your child is two-and-a-half and starting to try to lead (OK, boss around) our class a bit, let go of that embarrassed feeling that might wash over you. I’ve got this one — and you’ve got a honest-to-goodness conductor in your family! That’s good stuff.