Folksongs IV



What if *we* do not like folksongs?sow-opportunities

In volume 2, page 17, Miss Mason explains that when we consult our tastes rather than our children’s needs, we are making unlawful use of our authority. As to whether or not they are a need, I will address this in more detail in a later post.  However, as I may have pointed out before, I do not know of a culture that has no songs, no mouth music mothers croon to children or used to help people keep time while working, or to pass down stories.  There are cultures that never developed an alphabet, a written language, but I don’t know of cultures with no music of the people, and I do not mean pop songs.  I wonder who we think we are, that we so easily dismiss the music of our own and other cultures, the songs that have sustained, nourished, entertained, encouraged, and delighted human beings for centuries, at least. More on this later.

What if your kids don’t like folksongs?  The short answer is to do them anyway.

The long answer: I come to you not from a place of resounding success where all my children love folk music.   Four of them do, and they have passed that love on to their children.  One of them loves them folk music a little less, perhaps, but she and her grandma travel afar to attend Celtic Thunder concerts and their offshoots.  I had a total fail with one of mine, and I am convinced the way  I failed most was in giving up.  Be more like Mrs. Alston (see previous post), and less like me.  Like her, I would encourage you not to give up, but rather, keep looking and find some form of folk music, some performer, some song, some approach that will hook your child’s interest.

Children have always liked folk music, but they have also, children being that most frustrating of creatures, born human persons, sometimes not liked the folk music their parents like best.  I was amused by the advice I  stumbled across in a book published in 1870, titled Music and Morals and authored by one H. R. Haweis. He answers this question, saying:

“ …music, apart from the manipulation of sweet sounds, may be educationally useful in a variety of ways. That is why I say teach all children music.” “Whether they like it or not?” “Yes, whether they like or not–first, because children don’t always know what they do like; and secondly, because they don’t know what is good for them.”
“But if the child does not like music?” “Children are differently endowed, but there are very few in whom some taste for music cannot be cultivated–even children with hardly any musical ear can improve and even acquire the rudiments of one–but eliminate the joy of the art, the discipline of the art still remains in the early stages of childhood’s culture as a valuable aid and assistance to education.”

Children haven’t had the time or experience to know for sure what they really, truly like in many areas.  They don’t even know what’s available.  We sell them short when we give up too soon, or let them do so.  They are full persons, but they are full persons without experience. They are new.  If you were to be dropped off in a foreign country, would you expect to try some national dish and make up your mind about it on the spot?  Or would you maturely realize that even national dishes have multiple variations, styles, ingredients, and preparation methods, so just because you didn’t like one form, it doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate it more if you try it a few different times, a few different ways- not great, choking mouthfuls, but small bites here and there, over time?  You have something your children do not- experience.  Use it for their good and encourage them not to judge too hastily.

While Miss Mason does not offer a lot of specific instruction about folksongs  in her six volumes, she does offer many principles that apply to folksongs as well as other subject areas in school and for life as well.

In volume 1, speaking of children and music, Mason says:

The Habit of Music.––As for a musical training, it would be hard to say how much that passes for inherited musical taste and ability is the result of the constant hearing and producing of musical sounds, the habit of music, that the child of musical people grows up with. Mr. Hullah maintained that the art of singing is entirely a trained habit––that every child may be, and should be, trained to sing. Of course, transmitted habit must be taken into account.”

While she also speaks of the importance of training and careful teaching of the various musical skills, we begin with the habit of music. Folksongs are one of the earliest forms of music in which children can participate- and this has been true for every human culture I know of. Perhaps they exist, but I have yet to hear of a culture, a people, which has had no song, and the earliest songs are generally a form of folksong.  Give your children this very human art, a gift of music.  Better than that, give them the habit of music.   Habits are developed not all at once, not even on command, but gradually, incrementally, steadily, over time. Don’t give up too soon.

She also says in the same volume that it is “the part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities.”

You sow opportunities by presenting them, not abandoning them.  By all means, vary your approach, the style, the specific songs, linger a little longer than the children seem to prefer, but don’t give up altogether.

In volume 4 she says: “The hearing ear comes, like good batting, with much practice…”

If you do not hit the ball or play the song on the first attempt, is that the time to quit?  Will you get better that way?  You improve by keeping on.  And contrary to our current way of thinking, in most cases, so long as it is handled well, continuing to try will actually improve one’s enjoyment rather than make one hate the thing (some of you may remember my volleyball story).

Another passage in volume 4 is very thought-provoking, and it pinches a bit, at least for me.  She is addressing a bad habit she calls depreciation.  Today I think we would be more likely to call this being critical, a kind of carping cynicism, a dislike.  You say you love the mountains, the depreciator says, “Well, yes, but…  You say you use fairy tales, the depreciator says, ‘but so violent.’  You say you are reading Robinson Crusoe, the depreciator says, “a classic for sure, but so dry. ”  You say folksongs, the depreciator says, ‘surely hymns are more worthwhile, folksongs are not beautiful and good, they are violent, old fashioned, old boring, out of date, twangy, for hicks, etc.

Mason points out:

“It is well to remember that Depreciation is Injustice. The depreciative remark may be true in the letter, but it is false in spirit, because it takes a part for the whole, a single defect for many excellences. Depreciation may be inspired by the monster Envy, who is perpetually going about to put stumbling-blocks in the way of justice, and belittle the claims of others; or it may arise from Thoughtlessness, which is but a form of Self-occupation. Many of the crude and unworthy criticisms we hear of books, pictures, speeches, a song, a party, arise from the latter cause. We would not allow ourselves to depreciate if we recollected that Appreciation is one part of the Justice we owe to the characters and the works of others.”

Wow. There’s a lot to sort out and think over there, isn’t there?  It applies to so many areas of our lives, too.

So you or your child reject folk-songs- why?  Is your reason true in part, but dismissive of a bigger picture?  Is a single defect being allowed to sum up an entire body of work?  And what if that single defect is merely a matter of personal taste?  Is a ten year old’s personal taste really sufficient basis upon which to build an education?
I’m going to gloss over envy, because I don’t really see how it would apply here.

But thoughtlessness, a form of self-occupation surely is pertinent.

If a rejection of folksongs altogether is essentially based on what you or your child dislike, is that dislike informed enough, based on solid principles more meaningful than personal taste, or is it based on a form of self-occupation?  That’s hitting hard, I know.   After all, why can’t we do what we like? Is it wrong to have preferences, likes, dislikes?  Well, of course, not.  But I think that’s leaning on the negative side.  Instead of settling what we already do and do not like, I think it is a bigger blessing to our kids if we help them broaden the scope of things they appreciate.

“Appreciation is one part of the Justice we owe to the characters and the works of others.”

Of course we all have preferences, tastes, opinions.  But not all opinions are equally well developed, worthwhile.  In volume 4, Mason also says:

An Opinion worth having.––We may gather three rules, then, as to an opinion that is worth the having. We must have thought about the subject and know something about it, as a gardener does about the weather; it must be our own opinion, and not caught up as a parrot catches up its phrases; and lastly, it must be disinterested, that is, it must not be influenced by our inclination.

But, ‘Why need we have opinions at all,’ you are inclined to ask, ‘if they mean such a lot of trouble?’ Just because we are persons. Every person has many opinions, either his own, honestly thought out, or picked up from his pet newspaper, or from his favourite companion. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he helped to save a life. There is no more or less about duty; and it is a great part of our work in life to do our duty in our thoughts and form just opinions.”

Who knew that even in the singing of folk songs, there is such an opportunity to build and develop character and justice?

Charlotte Mason, that’s who.

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