Some “amazing” (I like to think they’re amazing anyway) things happened in my music classroom this week. During the Adele Dazeem climb in Let It Go, one of my quiet, sweet Kindergarteners broke out into full Idina mode and sang the solo “the past is in the past” in the most empowering voice ever. Twice. My Pre-Kindergarteners managed to make their classroom teacher cry happy tears when they sang for her.
But on March 6, 2014, the power of music managed to make my entire class of 2nd graders cry. Together.
I know, I know. Everyone’s initial reaction is “Oh my goodness Alice what the heck did you do to them?!” Trust me, that’s what all my fellow teachers asked me, too. So here’s what happened (I’m also totally gearing up for the How I Met Your Mother finale):
I decided that for the school’s Spring Arts Festival, all my students (aka the whole school) should sing “I Believe I Can Fly” as the final number. Empowering, all about dreaming big, and just a great song and message for everyone. On the board was Aim: What does believe mean? – and I was excited to engage my students in a discussion about what it means to believe something and what it takes to go from believe to ACHIEVE in life.
Kindergarteners and 1st Graders received the song really well, and some of them had heard it before – even better! I was extremely excited to welcome my 2nd Graders into class to really delve deep into the topic of the day. I told them I was about to play a song that some of them may have heard before, and I wanted them to close their eyes and really think about what it meant when R. Kelly sang the word believe.
The song started playing and I closed my eyes as well. But as I took peeks throughout various moments in the song to make sure my kids’ eyes were closed, I started seeing one or two my students cry. When we reached the end of the song, I opened my eyes to see four of my students crying. Immediately I thought, wow, it must have really moved them! I asked in a gentle voice, “would you like to share what this song is making you feel?” I could hardly believe what I was about to hear.
One by one, each of the four students told me stories about how they last heard this song at a relative’s funeral. For one it was a close uncle. For the others, their grandparents. I immediately responded, “it is completely okay to feel this way and let your emotions out like this,” and we started talking about what it meant to lose someone. The room was so quiet but the cries so deafening as I heard my students truly cry out for those they have lost in life. I then started to talk about how music can help us let these emotions out and allow us to express ourselves. I personally shared that I had not met three of my grandparents and how I feel loss and resonate with them. I even said that those who are no longer with us want to see us happy and doing the right thing and enjoying school and life.
But the more I talked about the situation, the more students started crying. I can only imagine that more and more students started identifying with their friends and/or with me and envisioned those they missed in their lives or family members they had never met. In a matter of minutes, my entire class of 2nd graders were crying – some hysterically and some quietly with the kids they sat next to.
I didn’t know what to do. First, I had us all take deep breaths. It didn’t work. Then I had us sing Let It Go to literally try to let go of our burdens and sadness that now weighed so heavily upon all their little shoulders. But my kids were literally inconsolable. I don’t even know if you can really imagine this. A room full of melancholy sobs and sorrowful cries so loud that the classroom down the hall could hear them. It was time for lunch and my kids were in two lines, crying and crying and crying.
But I didn’t stop it. I let it continue. We walked down the stairs and at each landing I would look back at my heavy-hearted, grief-stricken students. We walked into the lunch room with stares from all the other kids in the school wondering what the heck I had just done to this class. They continued to sob on the lunch line, and even after they sat back down with their lunch.
One of the initial 2nd graders who started crying asked me,
“Why did you HAVE to play that song, Miss Alice? Why?!”
“Well, do you think I would have played that song if I knew it was played at your Uncle’s funeral?”
“I’m really sorry, A. I never meant to make you upset, just know that it’s okay to feel this way.”
I really didn’t mean to unleash all these emotions. After all, I had no idea this was a popular funeral song!
I took a few moments for myself after I left the lunchroom just walking through the hallways and reflecting on what I had just experienced. In Her, one of the most powerful quotes that really struck me was,
“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
It’s an interesting idea, what this quote says, especially since I often feel that I have already experienced a lot of what music has to offer me personally. But what I experienced proves this quote wrong at an extraordinary level. Never could I imagine that one song could elicit such a reaction from ALL of my students.
What a powerful experience that was. In those moments together with my students, we all felt loss, pain, hurt, so low-spirited. We mourned together, and as crazy the hysterical cries must have been – it brought us closer. We shared those moments together. And it’s because the power of music allowed us to.
I mean, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I did manage to make a fellow teacher cry happy tears because her Pre-K students sang so beautifully for her. But there’s something about the other end of the spectrum of somber crying that is so deep and indescribable when we confront it. The kind that happens at funerals when you’re missing the one who had passed. But this happened in my music classroom. Because we listened to one song. And that one song made us each think of people we missed. People, nonetheless – but different people.
It was much more than just a music lesson. But it was the most powerful kind of music lesson I could have ever imagined. It’s certainly something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
I wonder if my kids will remember it when they grow up.