Monday, December 17, 2012


I cannot think about what happened in Connecticut on Friday without starting to cry. I hope that changes, because I'd like to be able to talk to my kids about it without weeping. 

There are no easy answers to our questions and there are probably more reasons for what happened than any of us could imagine, but one big problem has been coming to my mind again and again. And that is the lack of light and beauty in so many children's lives.

I do Lunch Bunch every Wednesday at Shaemus's school. Just five or six first-graders and me. They eat their lunch while I read them books and we talk. We talk about stories and writing and reading. I love it. One of the highlights of my week. 

This Wednesday, we were discussing this book:

Product Details

Randy Riley's Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen

Randy stinks at baseball, but he is a genius. He discovers that a fireball is coming to earth, so he builds a robot to hit that fireball back into space and save the world. 

We talked about what might happen as we read. We talked about things Randy might do to save the world. We talked about other things he might have done instead of build a robot. 

One of the children, the most darling boy who raises his hand every other minute and says, "Excuse me, excuse me..." only had one thing to say in response to these questions. "We could do what they din in Halo," he practically shouted. "We could blow everything up, and kill all the bad guys." 

There aren't any bad guys in the story. I explained this and then other kids shared, and then this cute boy's hand was in the air again. "But in Halo, it's awesome. They've got bombs and they blow everything up. Pow!" I think he must have said, "Halo," fifteen times while I was reading this book. 

This video game was the only thing he seemed to talk about. Halo. Explosions. Killing things. Blowing things up. Death. Destruction.

I'd heard of Halo. I knew it was a video game, but that was all I knew about it. I looked it up when I got home and saw that the video game has a "mature" rating. I know almost nothing about video games, but one thing was clear to me. This is a violent video game not meant for a first grader to be watching or playing. And that was obviously how this cute little boy spent a great deal of his time. 

There is so much ugliness in this world, and so much of it we call entertainment, and so much of it is being fed to our kids, whether we are aware of it or not. 

We have to fight the ugliness with beauty, for lack of a better, more inspiring word. Light, beauty, life, love.

With that in mind, I'd like to share with you why our family does music. All four of our kids play an instrument, Flannery will start this year (probably violin or viola) and Sam is having Mary teach him violin lessons. (He's been on Twinkle, twinkle little star for months...)

1) It is beautiful. Not all music of course, but the music my children are learning in their lessons is beautiful. And now that Mary is taking fiddling, that beauty has extended into other genres of music beyond classical. Listening to beautiful music is uplifting. Inspiring. Peaceful. It brings calmness into a cluttered mind. Most kids today hate music without words. This is not anecdotal. Just drive in a car with a variety of kids and try turning on classical music after you've been listening to rock. But there is so much variety within classical music and fiddling music and international music and jazz. There is something for everyone. And the reason kids don't like it? 

They don't hear enough of it.

2) It builds brain cells. If you don't believe me, you are wrong. Learning music builds brain cells.

3) It is a family affair. 

Our family does music and we do it together. They all have their own teachers and they practice on their own Monday through Friday. Because the older ones have to practice, the younger ones don't complain so much. Once you get the oldest going, it generally gets easier and easier with the younger ones. But that's not the best part.

The best part is Saturdays. On Saturdays, my kids are welcome to practice for their lessons like they normally do, or they can join in on the Family Jam Session. (they always choose family jam)

I play the piano (very poorly), and I have bought a ton of music of all different kinds (classical, contemporary, fiddling, jazz, tangoes, Spanish, holiday) with parts for violin/viola/cello/bass, and we jam. 

Sam wanted us to play Christmas music as a family at a retirement center this year. He found two great places that are low-income. Because they lack the fancy pianos and fancy concert rooms wealthier retirement homes tend to have, they rarely get people to come play for them. Indeed, when we stepped into both of those places, I felt how hungry these sweet people were for attention and for music and for children. And for love and light.

They were wonderful, the best audience in the world. The most enthusiastic, the most interested and the most forgiving.

We played nine Christmas songs, finishing up with Mary and Lucy playing Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. I'll post two videos below. 

It is not all magical. I occasionally have to raise my voice when we are having family jams, and someone, usually Shaemus, gets way too silly and crazy sometimes and I'm ALWAYS worried that instruments will be injured. But most of the time it is pretty fun, and when we performed, it was magical. The kids absolutely loved it. They want to do it all the time. 

Here are some links to some of our favorite not-so-classical artists. It might inspire your kids to think outside-the-box and try an instrument they might previously have thought boring! (If you have any favorites like these, please share! Particularly of horn or wind players—we are obviously too focused on strings.)

The piano guys

Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling again

2 Cellos

Goat Rodeo

Dueling Basses

Natalie Macmaster (Mary and Sam went and saw her in concert the other night and LOVED it!)

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