I’ve been pondering lately what I really care about in life. Research shows that people tend to be happier when they spend their money on experiences rather than things, and I’ll go along with that! The experiences that I care about most are about connecting – with nature, with music, with other people. And as the connections increase in positivity and intensity, they tend to become more and more transformative. Some of those really amazing experiences can change you forever. And others with you.
One reason we have organizations like ECMMA is to make it possible for us to combine forces. We gather together with all the good we collectively possess, and we make our experiences exponentially greater.
I was lucky this fall. I spent two different weekends with my fellow musicians in events sponsored by two different organizations. And I’m still feeling good.
The Children’s Music Network began under a tree about twenty-five years ago, when a group of folksingers and songwriters decided that they needed to do something for their – and all – children. Many of those original people from under the tree still come to the conferences every year that they can. But at the most recent conference, in the D.C. area in September, a third of the 150 participants were first-timers. Now, that is the mark of a vital organization!
Or you could call it Uncle Ruthie meets Uncle Devin.
Longtime CMN-er Uncle Ruthie got her title over fifty years ago, because, when she started in radio (at KPFK-FM in Los Angeles), all the family shows were hosted by “Uncle” somebody-or-other. She’s now eighty-three, but still writes songs and wears argyle knee socks and other really interesting clothes that she, and children, like. She was written up in the L.A Times last year for turning the stumps in her front yard into benches, and inviting visitors in her characteristic way – in rhyme.
Welcome, neighbor, king or clown
Weary walker, sit you down
Tired queens or winsome wenches
Silent bards or poets true,
Share your words
Both old and new
Or if in silence you would stay
We welcome you with love today
"What happened is so magical I am still wondering if I am dreaming!" Uncle Ruthie wrote . . . "People are writing poems, tacking them on the tree (it does not hurt the tree), and helping themselves from the basket of free books I provide.... Neighbors are meeting neighbors, dogs are meeting soul-mate dogs, and I am having the time of my life."
First-timer Uncle Devin lives on the opposite coast, in the D.C. area. He is about twice Uncle Ruthie's size and half her age and his sartorial tendencies go more towards white suits, but he shares her passion for creating community through music, poetry and the arts. He describes himself as a cross between Fat Albert and Schoolhouse Rock, and – in his own words, as interviewed on Long Island TV: “This is the Uncle Devin Show. This is a musical experience using the live drum and other instruments to inspire young folks to share in the principles of love.”
The principles of love were nowhere more felt than in the traditional “Magic Penny Award” Ceremony on Sunday morning. Each year, a group or performer with a lifetime of impact on children’s music is honored. This year’s recipient was another Ruth, Ruth Pelham, who has spent decades driving a “Music Mobile” around neighborhoods in Albany, NY, doing music and art projects with any children or parents who showed up. The ceremony began with an appreciation, on video, from the mayor of Albany – and then from various other people Ruth’s work had touched, from social workers to parents to kids. One boy showed up as a sixteen year old, to say that the Music Mobile had changed his life – and again, in a later video, as a man in his thirties – with exactly the same message.
During the ceremony, person after person, group after group climbed up on the stage to sing one of Ruth’s songs and to invite us to sing along . . . it was quite poignant from a personal standpoint as well, because Ruth’s sister had recently died, and this was the first time Ruth was “out” in public. Maybe this gave an extra edge of intensity to the singing, because for the first time, I understand what the phrase “raise the roof” really means – it isn’t about volume, it’s about volume of love. There was a moment that truly brought down the house, when, in a moment of silence, a three year old girl who was running toy trucks along the seat backs, unconsciously taking in the music, just sang out the refrain . . . clear as a bell . . .
I wish I could remember the words – they were superbly appropriate – but honestly, all I remember is the feeling. Have I really described it? I doubt it. But whenever I remember that moment, I feel people around me, supporting me, and all the other grown-ups and kids who are present with me, in that moment. And in this moment, now, with you.
(I think the song was The Turning of the World), If you move ahead to a couple of minutes into the video, you'll hear the song - and the kids playing under the bandstand).