The Life of Jennifer Dawn: Music Play for Kids with Jim Gill

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Music Play for Kids with Jim Gill

Several months ago, we had the privilege of meeting Jim Gill at a local reading festival.  (There's Lydia Grace in a picture with him.)  Have you heard of Jim Gill?  He is a musician and author whose songs and stories my children absolutely adore.  Even little Caleb at 11 months old already laughs and dances to the catchy tunes.  Jim Gill's collection of recordings and stories are unique in that they encourage play between children and adults.  I have always incorporated a music time into my days with the kids, but Mr. Gill's songs have brought a new dimension to that time.  His songs have us jumping around, laughing, acting silly, learning, playing, and most importantly having fun together!  You can sample several of his songs at this link.  Before you hit the play button though, grab the kids and be prepared to get up and get moving.  I often joke with my husband that our music play time has also become mommy's workout time.  The Tempo Marches On is always perfect for that.  {laughing}  Truly!  You are going to love how fun these songs are.  Why am I gushing about Mr. Gill's music?  Well, I believe when us mommies find something fabulous, we should share.  I am frequently asked about the music time I do with my kids. I am sharing some of the great songs we use for our music time.

Jim Gill
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Interview with Jim Gill:
Mr. Gill graciously agreed to answer some interview questions for me.  I'm honored to introduce you to the man behind the music...

What is "music play"?

JG: I began calling my songs "music play" when I was in discussion with a producer about the first song on my first recording, "The Sneezing Song."  The producer was concerned that it was lacking in many....frankly, any....of the elements that help make songs "catchy"  and he had a number of suggestions for ways to improve the song.  That song was created through weekly play groups that I led for families, however, so I knew that the song was.....just as it was.....a great game.  Maybe not a great song, but a great game.  And, for me, what I was (and remain) interested in is the potential for music to be a context for play.

So I told him that I agreed that his ideas would make for an improved song, but in this instance I was more interested in promoting the play.  In our discussion I used the term "music play" and it has seemed appropriate ever since.

I never trademarked the term or anything like that.  The wonderful thing about play is that it is free......and the word "play" should belong to everyone.  

Did you enjoy music as a child?

JG: Almost every parent that I meet says this to me:  "One thing about my child......she (or he) really loves music!"  Which is, I'm sure, true for every one of them.  And I'm sure it was true for me.  There was one unique way that my brother and I played, however,  that I think about fairly regularly.  My parents were "older" parents and we had a Victorola in the house....and lots of 78 records.  My brother and I liked to put on the old 78 records, which were mostly instrumental, and make up dramatic scenes based on the music.  Really silly....lots of seriously playful overacting.  I guess it was early "music play!"  

What first interested you in child development as an academic and career path?

JG: I was asked to lead weekly play groups for families with young children with special needs when I was in college. I was 20 years old.  At first the therapists on staff at the sponsoring agency....and the parents involved......looked at the play groups as an opportunity for weekly "fun."  And they were fun, but after a few months those same therapists and parents kept telling me how the play groups were more than "just fun."  The therapists noted that some of the children were working harder during the play groups - whether physically or with all depended on the particular child - than they did during therapy sessions.  And the parents mentioned that they enjoyed the fact that their children with and without special needs could all play the musical games together.  Various therapy centers and family support centers would contact me to schedule these kinds of weekly play groups.......(In all I led these kinds of weekly groups for 20 years until my travels made it too difficult to keep a consistent schedule.)

Somewhere along the line I decided to go back to graduate school and looked for a program where I could concentrate my studies on one element that most interested me: play.  The Erikson Institute (here in Chicago) was a perfect match because it was a program in child development......not early childhood education.  And I was more interested in studying how children learn rather than learning techniques for how to "teach" them.  Does this make sense?  There is a difference.  

I agree!  There certainly is a difference.

JG: During my time in graduate school I actually considered continuing my studies in order to develop some sort of therapeutic play practice.....or possibly continue my studies and pursue an academic career.  One of my favorite professors took me aside to encourage me to continue doing what I do.......creating opportunities for families to play together through music.  

What or who are your musical influences?  Where do you derive your musical inspiration from?

JG: I'm answering you on the day after Pete Seeger died......and, to be honest, Pete Seeger inspired me to begin playing the banjo.  I was leading play groups for families (as I mentioned) by singing songs a cappella and using, here and there, recorded music that others had made.  I knew I had some ideas for my own musical games, but that they would be much better with some sort of accompaniment.  So I chose the instrument that my musical hero played.....the 5 string banjo.

Pete was a great player......I'm just an inspired strummer.  But Pete's concerts were always sing-alongs.  My play groups were always sing-alongs and dance-alongs........and my concerts remain that way.  There is not much to watch at one of my concerts.  The idea is to get everyone.....children, parents and grandparents singing together or dancing together.

Here are links to 2 examples.  The first is a great "sing-along"in concert:

And here is a great example of a "dance along" in concert:

Out of all your songs, do you have a personal favorite?

JG: I like different songs for different reasons. Each one is meant to, hopefully,  inspire some variation of play.  2 sing-alongs that are favorites are "Oh Hey Oh Hi Hello" and "The Onomatopoeia Pizzeria."  They are sing-along games with similar ridiculous structures.   For active movement, 2 favorites are "Jump Up, Turn Around"....which is really simple and very "Pete Seeger ish".....and "Truck Stop"......which combines great word play, improvised music and opportunities for great active family play.

My kids and I love the song and book May There Always Be Sunshine.  What do you most hope there will always be?

JG: Lots of folks sing this Russian song and....coincidentally......if everyone in the U.S. who sings this song traces back where they learned it from and who that person learned it from, the path would end up at Pete Seeger.  One of the biggest honors in my "career" was to open up my mailbox one day and find a long hand written letter from Pete with lots of compliments on my book.  Someone had sent it to him and he decided to take the time and write me just to let me know how much he enjoyed the book and to let me know the history behind the song.  So generous.

May there always be.......hmmm.......I'd say, "May there always be play."

By the way.....I'm a big fan of the folks at the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood that are working to make sure that there is always a space for children to play.....using their own thoughts and ideas.  If you are not familiar with their work, check them out:

Remember those awful ads a few years ago for "Your Baby Can Read"?  Suing that company (successfully) is just one of their recent victories.  

If you could give educators and parents one piece of advice, what would it be?

JG: It's 2 fold.  

First of all, when you think of a young child playing........put yourself in that picture for a time.  We help children learn so much just by sitting next to them, talking with them, playing with them and reading with them.  

And secondly, if you spend some time really watching a child play, you can see that he/she is learning so much.  The particulars vary from child to child and situation to situation, but spend some time observing.  You'll see.  And the best'll see what he or she learned from you earlier when you sat and played along.  

When you work with or care for young children there is no need to choose between the "hard work" of promoting development and having a joyous time with them.  Play provides opportunities for both.  

I've tried to capture a bit of that in my videos.....which show the children and the adults playing together:

And we certainly enjoy playing along with your songs!  Thank you for the opportunity to share insight into your music.

Happy playtime!
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1 comment:

  1. Great interview, thanks for sharing! The world has lost a great musical artist in Pete Seeger but I'm so glad that many others like Jim were inspired by his talent and will carry on his tradition.


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