The shrill calls of a Northern Flicker complete the sounds of a sunny summer morning. The 14th year of Meadow Music, the program that has become the cornerstone of our business, starts this evening. It’s always a big day, preparing for this concert that started on a whim with some songs for a few families in a meadow, and has grown into a much anticipated community event for the Boulder, Colorado area. There are costumes to pack, and sound gear to prepare, staff to coordinate and merchandise to gather. There’s a nervousness to putting on a big event, one which regularly draws hundreds of families to traipse through the Chautauqua Green with toddlers and picnics in tow. Will our show be good enough? Will our sound equipment, all battery powered for this outdoor event, function? Will people be happy with what we offer them? Will the weather hold? There is an opportunity to add a lot of pressure and expectation to our lives. The thing that saves us every time, and over and over in our work as children’s performers, is the joy.
Meadow Music is itself a joy: families picnic in a beautiful park, kids smile at a friend across the field, we share a beloved hike on trail with our community, Open Space and Mountain Parks Staff wear bunny rabbit ears and safety vests to help us navigate road crossings. The hike returns to Chautauqua Green for the concert and kids frolic in summer sunshine wearing monarch wings and rainbow socks.
Then, it’s showtime. The moment Jeff and I anticipate all day, fingers crossed that everything functions and that our voices reach the back of the crowd through our microphones. We start to sing. Was that a wrong note? Is this the right song for the moment? Are the kids engaged in the performance? Why is that lady looking at me funny, does she dislike the show? And then our attention focuses in on the kids, their open present faces, their eyes shining with happiness as they play with their friends on a summer evening, dance like wild animals, slither like snakes, laugh at our silly jokes. This show isn’t about Jeff, or Paige, it’s about the joy. The joy of singing, the joy of showing up, the joy of playfulness and love, the joy that’s created between the audience and the performers when all guards are dropped.
As a parent I get to watch this joy grow and evolve in my own son. At three he is finding his voice–moving from singing the ABC’s to making up his own songs and playing with rhythm, words, and sounds. I notice that if I pay attention to him when he’s playing in this way, he often stops. There’s a temptation to encourage him, “I like that! Keep singing.” But even praise stems the flow of his spontaneous play. In a culture where product is so often valued over process I’m aware of the crushing power that both praise and criticism can have on creativity. In my son, and in my own self, I am reminded to practice creativity for the fun of it.
Growing up, surrounded by highly competitive television shows like “The Voice,” where contestants are judged not just by the panel of “experts” but also by millions in the audience, it is more important than ever to give kids space to practice simple creative play unwatched, un-praised, just for the joy. Who cares what it sounds like? Sing. Who cares what it looks like? Paint. Even more so, it is important to model that play and joy for our children, giving ourselves permission to sing, and dance, and love this life with the fullness of our whole human bodies, voices and all.
In the words of Jeff Kagan, “Sing out everyone sing, for the joy that it brings.”
See you tonight at Meadow Music, 5:30pm on Chautauqua Green in Boulder, Colorado.