We shall not be moved is top-of-mind when I think back on my teen years in Berkeley, CA. In choir at Martin Luther King Junior High, I learned this hymn turned movement anthem with people from many different zip codes. Our tracked school system offered me few opportunities to interact with people from African-American, Asian American and Latinx backgrounds. Choir was one place that reflected the diversity of the student body, and where we built friendships from joy in music.
Sunday January 17 at 4:30 p.m., the Secret Choir will sing together as best as we can on Zoom. Our meeting will be brief (an hour or less) and we will warm up with some creative writing or drawing before singing a handful of songs that to me represent empathy and respect, such as We Shall Not be Moved.
This social change hymn is borrowed from its Spiritual predecessor "I Shall Not Be Moved,” whose seminal words appear multiple times in the Bible, and even in the 1807 London-published excerpt created to maintain the tyranny of slavery. The "Sl*ve Bible" omitted any reference to freedom, equality, or direct communion with the Divine, such as in Psalm 16:8 I keep the L*rd always before me; because They are at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
"I shall not be moved" was and is sung in steadfast resistance to oppression. While, on the surface, the lyrics appear to support staying in a place or station the hymn can be a call to inner fortitude. "I shall not, I shall not be moved. Like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved."
This Mavis Staples Version brings comfort and hope to me. I also relish this Spiritual edition by the Harmonizing Four. For motivation, I like this Uptempo Praise & Worship track by Kenny Bobien.
As much as singing on Zoom feels like talking through a tin-can phone, it's still great fun! “Thank you so much for hosting Secret Choir online … I was stressed out before and now I feel better.” said one singer after our first Zoom sing last month. “It was so much fun to sing together: I missed this.” said another.
Our next Social Sing will be on January 17, a Sunday, at 4:30 p.m., during the weekend when we remember Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Every year during MLK weekend, radio stations play hymns and songs of resistance from the Civil Rights movement. Music is an integral part of movements for social justice, equality and change across the world, across time and in many cultures. Songs, instrumental music and dances, like the high-stepping South African Toyi-Toyi, performed during anti-apartheid protests, serve as a collective heartbeat of a crowd. Their messages can motivate people marching while communicating goals to outsiders listening.
This winter, Secret Choir will feature songs of social change. We shall mine collective memory for songs to inspire and recharge the spirit. [I’ll send out some social context for these songs via email ahead of time so that when you arrive in our Zoom room all you need to do is sing!]
As the global pandemic continues, it is my hope that songs of social change inspire perseverance to live by the values you hold most dear. The Secret Choir will meet this spring through March 2021, on select Sunday afternoons.
The Secret Choir is a fun singing group and creative community for people of all backgrounds, genders, abilities, ages and body sizes. Through gentle vocal and writing prompts, members sing with ease, access intuitive wisdom, and use creativity as self-care. With increased intuitive and social connection, people in the Secret Choir enhance their well-being through self-compassion and consistent creative practice. Self-doubt and self-consciousness diminish as emotional resilience and contentment help them to thrive in daily life.
I, Elisabeth Swim, started the Secret Choir to have an interfaith, body-inclusive place to sing socially, without pressure to perform. When I see members find their inner voices through gentle writing prompts and connect with others through song, my spirit soars!
Join The Secret Choir HERE
Tuning pianos is what some people call a dying art. There are not a lot of people with the skill and musicality required to tune mechanical pianos.
I feel fortunate to know a few local piano tuners who work with me and my student families to set the stage for satisfying music.
Ello Piano Service comes recommended by a colleague at The Next Step Academy. Saun C. Lee is also available to tune pianos throughout the Houston area. Finally, Action Piano has moved instruments for me, and they tune instruments as well.
According to Saun [pronounced "sohn" to rhyme with "John"] C. Lee, tuning a piano annually can help students:
Hear and appreciate sounds both at and away from the piano, which builds sensory resilience
Sense differences between moods and shades of sound, which helps with social referencing
Enhance their musical phrasing, which transfers to ease and fluidity in daily speech
Enjoy playing the piano, which increases internal motivation for home play, aka practice!
As I continue to teach lessons and stay in touch, I want to thank you for being part of my community. I have seen clearly during the pandemic that the people in my life make it rich and fulfilling: I am so grateful you are one!
In case you haven't read my first music book, you may find it on Amazon. I drafted this on an Amtrak 🚞 from New Orleans to Atanta, enjoying the wheels' rhythm, tree-screened views and time and to think and write.
If you've gotten into tidying during this home-centered time, and if you love books the way I do, you might be interested in passing some books along to readers outside your quarantine pod. Although little free libraries are fun and easy places to donate, you can also sell your books online from home through Powell's.
Finally, I am a big fan of the Libby app which lends me audiobooks and digital text on deadlines that motivate me. Find it on Amazon.
The piano keys are backward -- opposite to what they used to be. In early days of keyboarding, harpsichord manuals (keyboards) were made with big ebony keys and small wooden keys topped with white ivory. In other words, the default, letter-name keys were originally black. However, because this made it difficult at times to perceive the space between the keys, where one key ended and another began, the colors were switched to what we use today. Now that borders between letter-name note keys and their sharps and flats are clear, it can be even easier to see the twelve-note pattern that makes every musical keyboard, from piano to organ to melodica to harmonium to accordion. As I describe in my short book Piano without Tears, understanding this simple pattern can allay any anxiety around gettint to know your keyboard: As long as I can count to twelve, I can get the piano: 5 black keys + 7 white keys = only 12 different keys! There are five black keys on any keyboard, formerly five white keys. Take a look at the bottom picture above. Notice that the black keys come in groups of three black keys and two black keys in an alternate pattern: a group of two / a group of three / a group of two / a group of three, etc ... There are seven white keys formerly seven black keys. They are organized according to their position among the black keys. Notice that there are four white keys directly touching the three black keys. There are also three white keys directly touching the two black keys. Students in my playful mindful studio build a foundation of understanding by learning every single one of these twelve keys in multi-sensory ways. What do you see in this pattern? Comment to let me know :-) or write me c/o music at notearspiano dot com
I would not try to fuel my car by shifting gears. But as a new singer I did just that. Like many people, I tried to use muscles in my face and jaw to create sound.
My students learn that the body is made to sing using three different mechanisms:
Whether or not your life goals include singing, practicing extended exhales can bring inner steadiness. Start with the humming sound "mmmmmmmmmm." After a relaxed in breath, send a hum out on any tone (there is no ‘correct’ pitch) and keep going for as long as you like. When finished, enjoy the relative silence of your simple breaths.
This PDF can help you remember to try this whenever you have a spare minute and a need for peace. (Playful Mindful Stress Tamers).
A common myth is that music always conveys the same emotions, no matter who is listening. This could not be further from the truth. Early European Christian chants, for example, used minor melodies to convey intense emotion, but not any particular type of emotion.
Nowadays, however, it is common to think of minor songs as sad (Umbrella, Sweet Dreams, Pavane by Faure).
The same is true of songs that we think of as inherently happy. People can be moved to tears by songs in major modes which are often believed to be inherently happy (Twinkle Twinkle, Wake Me Up, Irreplaceable).How to avoid this emotional misunderstanding? Enjoy quality music time with yourself or your family as part of home school or wind down. Use this active listening framework I created with the help of Maestro Franz at the Houston Symphony to connect with any genre of music in an emotionally neutral way. This will make room for EVERYONE’s emotions reactions to the music, as you listen for qualites that are connected to every musician’s essential skills.
Get the active listening framework here (Listen Up!) or find it in my book Piano Without Tears along with the whys and wherefores of my Playful Mindful method.
If you would like a free copy of Piano Without Tears, simply fill out the form on this page :-)
Do you remember the "toy boat" tongue twister? When I was in elementary school, classmates and I would try to say the words "toy boat" five times as quickly as we could. Three reps in would get to "toy boyt" every time. On the other hand, I remember singing freely during my only-child alone time. I sang stories to myself, narrated whatever may have happened to me during my day, or made singing games out of my chores. Though I don't remember any of those early original songs, I know for certain that singing was a key part of my speech development. To support with my students' mastery of tricky sounds, I created a couple of originals.
These are kid-friendly songs, but I hope they are fun to hear at all ages 🤩
Song for "Ch" (lyrics here) supports mastery of the "ch" sound as distinct from "z" and "sh." It is inspired by the train song (above) and the Riddle Song, which my parents used to sing to me as a lullaby. To listen, click on the song title and press the "play" arrow on the new pop-up window. Trouble loading? Try this.
Train on the Track (lyrics here) rehearses the consonant sounds "K" and "L" in the tricky cluster that begins "clickety clack" . To listen, click on the song title and press the "play" arrow on the new pop-up window. Trouble loading? Try this.
These are both live recordings and I hope you enjoy their authentic feeling (a.k.a. unedited quirks ;)
P.S. These songs and more are on SoundCloud. Follow me on Instagram.
Elisabeth C. Swim
Playful Mindful Music Guide