I love playing shows at traditional venues, but I hope that I always make time to play for people in places like schools and nursing homes… I can’t quite put my finger on what makes these experiences so special, but they are indeed. For almost three years now, I have played at the same assisted living facility every couple of months; I’ve been able to get to know these people by now, in a small but meaningful way. It’s always been fun to watch the residents engage with music – I perform lots of familiar hymns and standards – many people tap their feet and some sing along.
And then just the other day, I got a chance to play for several classrooms of elementary school children, ages 5-9 years old… there, too, I saw kids dancing and singing along to some of their favorite tunes. Things were going well that afternoon, so I introduced the kids to a few of my original songs, asking them to sing with me on the choruses and to dance if they felt so inclined. They did both with gusto. At one point, I asked the kids if any of them had ever written their own song, and to my surprise, lots and lots of hands shot up. “That’s awesome!” I said, “Keep it up! Remember that music is always a great way to express yourself or cheer yourself up.”
Both of these recent encounters with music got me thinking about the ways we all interact with music and art. It seems to me that there are three levels of participation – and that it should be a major goal of society to foster these levels of participation at every age.
1) EXPOSURE: The first level of participation is exposure – making music and art available in our daily lives, even if it’s just in the background. Art and music have a way of making our surroundings and experiences more enriching… That’s why I love it when I see places like group homes and schools and nursing homes going the extra mile to make spaces more beautiful and to provide opportunities that connect people with art, if they so desire to partake. But this applies to everyone – how much art are you exposed to at your home or office? What kind of background noise is filling your ears? Making your daily lives more beautiful with art and music can ensure that every day just a little more enriching.
2) ENGAGEMENT: The second level of participation is engagement – when we feel connected to a piece of art or music, we begin to engage with it. Music enthusiasts don’t always play an instrument themselves, but they have a strong sense of connection and appreciation for the music they find beautiful. Does your child seem to really engage with a song on the radio or some piece of art they see at the doctor’s office? Nurturing these moments of engagement can help foster a lifelong love of art, and potentially allow for the third level of participation to emerge:
3) CREATION: At a certain point, we may feel led to create our own art. I would argue that most people are born creators, but that our confidence often gets squished out of us via criticism or fear by the time we are adults ( there’s an awesome TED Talk on this here). Anyway, hopefully as adults our desire for creation gets rekindled at a certain point. This looks different for everyone… Perhaps you start singing to yourself in the shower, or you decide to learn an instrument. Maybe you teach yourself a bunch of cover songs and play an open mic, or even book a show. Maybe you start writing your own songs, for others or just for yourself and the joy of creation. The point here is that ALL creation is valuable. It doesn’t matter if you ever show anyone your paintings or perform your music on a stage… It’s all about making our lives a little bit more enriching.
All three of these levels of artistic participation can connect us with our own creative energy and with a beauty that is bigger than ourselves – they are all important and valuable. So let’s encourage each other to explore this creative process, rather than criticize or critique. Let’s not hold ourselves back with self-judgement or fear – after all, making art is not the exception to the rule, available to a select few. Artistic expression is hardwired part of being human and we’re all better off when we nurture our creative side. Everyone just wants permission to follow their own hearts… Art is truly for everyone.
I hope you have fun this Spring enjoying the abundance of creation – the new life blooming on this beautiful planet, and the fruition of your own artistic endeavors! Cheers, and keep in touch!