Six Teachers, Six Songs: The power of music to maintain connection for educators

by Karen Hope

September 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic saw Melbourne face some of the most severe lockdown protocols in the world, from which the city is only just beginning to emerge. While there was an initial sense that the whole country was “in this together”, Karen Hope, an early childhood lecturer living in Melbourne, has prepared the following piece for The Sector after coming to the realisation that “while we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.”

 

In Six Teachers, Six Songs, Karen speaks about the role of music, as a universal language, in connecting those who work in education and their lived experiences through the pandemic:

 

During COVID-19, a time where people have been removed from friends and family, and during which life as we previously knew it has shifted, we have had to find ways to stay connected, to stay motivated and of finding ways of sparking daily joy.

 

For many, that joy has come from music – a universal language that has been proven to be good for the brain, the body and the soul.

 

In Melbourne I have seen children out the front of their houses playing recorders, a lone violinist in his first story window playing to passers-by, socially distanced balcony dance parties and local musicians live streaming new works.

 

Music has the capacity to make a bad day good and a good day even better. 

 

To learn more about the difference music has made in the lives of Victorian educators during this tricky time, I asked six Melbourne teachers what has been their ‘go to’ song during the latest lockdown, and for the “why” behind their choice 

 

Six very disparate teachers, working across long day care settings, sessional kindergartens, a primary school and a university, who have all remained working either face to face or remotely during both lockdown periods. Some teachers who are very experienced and have been teaching for a long time and one graduate who is in her first year of teaching (can you imagine?)

 

Six different teachers. Six different songs. All helping maintain a sense of normalcy and joy.

 

 

Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder.

 

“Music is food for the soul, and I love my food!  I’ve been one of the lucky ones who has had work to go to, to remain connected and to feel a sense of value in. To say that our world is full of problems would be the understatement of 2020. Who would have thought this third line of an 80s anthem would so clearly define life in a different century? I would defy anyone to not feel good, feel the rhythm and feel joy when they hear that rhythm on a nude snare drum that leads effortlessly into that bass riff that starts Stevie Wonder’s Master Blaster. Keep listening, keep grooving, be distracted from the tedium of isolation, of distance, of hardship and look forward to jamming’ until the break of dawn. Stevie Wonder is the master who brings us all together, who defies your ability to be sedentary and reminds you there is hope”.  

 

 

Inanay Capuana – Traditional lullaby.

 

“I didn’t have to think twice about my song selection. I’ve been singing this song for so long and it is connected to many special people, places and times in my life. It was the soundtrack to my 15 years teaching at the University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre and it was the first song I taught to my class when I started a new teaching position last year. I sang it to my newborn to help settle him to sleep. It’s a bit like Green Eggs and Ham: I have sung it with the class,  and I have sung it on the grass, I have sung it here and there, I have sung it everywhere! It’s a song people connect with immediately. It’s a song to remind us we’re on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land. Children request it. Parents learn it because their children sing it at home. It connects us and it calms us and is that not what we need more than anything in these strange and disconnected times?” 

 

 

 9-5 by Dolly Parton

 

“Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition, and yawn and stretch and try to come to life…” 

 

“This is almost exactly my morning routine – although, I need more than one ‘cup of ambition’ to get me through my day online! Originally, I imagined my very first year of teaching to feel like ‘real adulting’. But alas, during this extended remote learning period, I have never quite managed to get to the second verse of Dolly’s song. I guess I’ve realised that jumping in the shower just isn’t as much a priority, as moving wine glasses from the visible background of my computer screen and telling my siblings to ‘be quiet I have a meeting!’ But all that aside, Dolly’s music has a way of changing my mood, and the upbeat tempo of 9-5 never ceases to put a smile on my face and a pep in my virtual step.”

 

 

You raise me up – by Josh Groban 

 

“I think Josh Groban’s version of ‘You raise me up’ gifts me a gentle reminder to slow down; to pause and reflect on who and what raises me up when I’m in need of support, encouragement, calming, slowing and seeking different perspectives. Pausing reminds me to focus on what matters now and what might matter later, so I can reconsider my focus and energy. I am also reminded that there are many different people in my early childhood village that raise me up and I am not alone during this or any other challenging time in education.”

 

 

I heard it through the grapevine – by Gladys Knight and the Pips

 

“I have played this track over and over again. My mum was a singer in a band, so we grew up listening to all kinds of music, but soul and funk were a constant. Gladys Knight and the Pips was even on my parent’s old reel to reel. Mum passed last year, and we played this song at her funeral procession. The lyrics seem poignant for ISO with such fragmented communication. I can still remember my mum’s smile when she danced to this song. It makes me joyful”.

 

 

Ain’t no mountain high enough – by Diana Ross (remix)

 

“The idea of having just one song that has inspired me through this COVID crisis was somewhat challenging for me to pin-point. To be honest, I hadn’t actually thought about this – at all – prior to being questioned. To think that there was just ‘one’ song that has brought some kind of support, relief, hope and/or joy to me was too isolating. So, here it is…drum roll…please, in the end, I’ve gone with…Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Remix) by Diana Ross. But any version will do! Why? Because this Motown classic highlights that for love, one can defy and overcome all obstacles and all boundaries. 

 

For me, the song and sentiments are uplifting and powerful. It positions love as strong, determined and resilient, and through the beauty of her voice, Diana Ross also positions love as raw, vulnerable and empowering. The song is a reminder that one should never feel alone; that unity and belonging are in reach for all. And of course, the lyrics are contagious, the tune is boppy and always makes me dance, and simply stated, the song makes me feel alive. Everyone knows it, everyone can sing to it and everybody can move to it. Play it. Loud. And see what happens.” 

 

Karen’s choice

 

The Sector felt an article such as this would be incomplete without including Karen’s thoughts on which special songs have gotten her through. While she, too, has enjoyed a wide selection of choices, she ultimately landed on the landmark album Tea for the Tillerman, the work of Yusuf/Cat Stevens. 

 

 “I love this whole album. It is nostalgic and whimsical and transports me back in time. My favourite track on the album ‘Where do the children play’ contains a message so vital and important for us that we must pay attention;

 

“Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas
And you make them long, and you make them tough
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can’t get off

 

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?”

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