Camp Stepping Stones 2011

This is Part Two.
Read Part One: Camp Stepping Stones 2010 HERE!

How do you get a bunch of children to share their thoughts and feelings regarding the deaths of their loved ones?

  1. Treat them as equals. Limit your words to exclude those they would need a dictionary to comprehend, but don’t be condescending just because they aren’t adults. They’ve been through some heavy stuff.
  1. Allow each kid to participate at whatever level they are comfortable. Some will volunteer to go first. Some will wait until they’ve seen their peers volunteer. Some will not volunteer.
  1. Share your own personal experiences. If you want to see into their worlds, allow them to look into your world.
  1. Use music to provide structure. Use instruments to get the kids excited and engaged.
  1. Bribe them with a chance to play the tubano… or as it will be henceforth known, the big drum.

Camp Stepping Stones 2011

The Friday sessions began with a brief discussion about what music therapy is and what our goal was for the weekend: to compose, practice, and perform an original camp song. These sessions were for the campers to contribute lyrics. We discussed and demonstrated how speech has a natural rhythm. (example here) First, the music therapist leading the session performed a sentence presented in an unnatural rhythm – chanting (or rapping, if you prefer) while playing along with every syllable on the big drum. The music therapist then tried again, chanting and playing the same sentence in a rhythm that naturally fit the words. The assisting music therapists immediately echoed the lead music therapist – chanting and playing smaller percussion instruments. The various music therapists took turns sharing memories of their loved ones who had passed – the assisting music therapists always listening and echoing the lead music therapist. The person who was sharing always got the big drum.

The format was demonstrated and the structure of the activity learned through showing rather than telling. Kids would catch on and start to verbally echo along with the assisting music therapists. Once it seemed the entire group understood the process, we passed out percussion instruments to every camper. We asked the kids to volunteer to share their own memories. I always had a fear that no one would volunteer. The children had just arrived at camp between 3:00 and 4:00 on Friday. These sessions were Friday, 5:30 to 9:00. For some of them, besides dinner, this was their first camp activity. They were literally surrounded by strangers.

Turned out we always had campers eager to volunteer and share. Sometimes we even had to make a mental waiting list of who would get to play the big drum second and third and fourth. Some kids came up ready to play. Others needed some help to turn their feelings into a phrase that could be chanted – a line in a song to be created – more than a couple words, but shorter than a paragraph. The rest of the group was respectful and quiet as each volunteer shared. They had to be… in order to accurately echo the words and rhythm. Every time the group echoed a fellow camper, they were communicating musically:

I’m listening to you.

I hear you.

I understand you.