In honour of Valentine's Day, we dedicate this post to the virtues of friendship, tolerance, and compassion, all of which are embodied by anti-bullying initiatives.
How do you approach a subject like bullying in a way that not only sparks the interest of young students, but addresses a number of different learning styles? Songwriter Sandy Gemmill was inspired to use music as a means to teach children to think twice, and she shared some of her experiences with us.
Amy: Tell us a bit about the song you wrote, and what inspired it.
Sandy: Unfortunately, the anti-bullying theme in my songs was ill-inspired by a teen suicide in British Columbia, back in 2000. Since then, I have written four songs about bullying, each of which touch on different scenarios and target different age groups. The Story of Nelson the Giant conveys the need for kindness and respect and reminds children (and adults) of the hurtful effects of pre-judging and the importance of acceptance.
Amy: Why did you choose music as a way to spread your message about bullying and character education?
Sandy: For me, there is nothing more powerful than the universal language of music. As a child, I was always moved by the lyrics of a song, and most times, by the music alone. Music is a sure way to evoke emotion, and since my aim is empathy, I can't imagine a more direct and heartfelt way to capture a child’s attention.
Amy: Tell us about the reaction children (and others) have had to your song. How would their reaction have been different if you’d presented it another way?
Sandy: Because the story is immersed with so much mood and emotion, children are captivated with the musical changes they hear in dynamics and in tempo, and in the various instrumental sounds. Also, the simple fact that they have to imagine Nelson through their own individual experiences, physical attributes, and cultural backgrounds, means that they are able to create an emotional and personal connection to Nelson. I truly believe that tapping into a child's imagination, while evoking emotion through music, was the key to the success of Nelson the Giant.
Amy: How have you used other materials to connect to and compliment your musical approach?
Sandy: Nelson the Giant uses what I call my gentle approach to bullying awareness through music, art, and imagination. The story-song has been released with a companion activity colouring book, which includes key questions to prompt children to express their feelings about the hurtful effects of bullying, through writing, drawing, and open discussion.
Amy: Have parents and teachers reacted differently to your message because it’s in musical form?
Sandy: Parents and teachers have enthusiastically embraced my message in musical form, as they clearly witness how their children and students immediately comprehend and relate to an important message, when delivered through the power of music.
Amy: Have you seen your message spread beyond the classroom? How?
Sandy: The wonderful and supportive comments I receive daily via E-mail and Facebook, the loving hugs I receive from children and students, and the warm-hearted messages from people with special needs children (some as far away as the United Kingdom), truly touch my heart every day. On a bigger scale, I have seen my message of empathy and kindness spread throughout the community recently, as generous people donated their time and clothes to my winter clothing drive for children in need. The outpouring of compassion was a true blessing.
Amy: What advice would you give other aspiring singer/songwriters looking to use music as a means to encourage character education?
Sandy: Don’t be intimidated by textbook definitions. If you have a passion for helping children and want to encourage character education on any level, as a singer/songwriter, it is imperative that you remain true to yourself and sing and write from your heart.
Sandy Gemmill is a children's songwriter and anti-bullying advocate. Her recently self-published story-song, The Story of Nelson the Giant: A Heart as Big as His THUMP! is a unique activity book and two-song CD, which provides a gentle approach to bullying awareness and prevention, through imagination, music, art...and a GIANT heart! Sandy believes that promoting social harmony in the early years, creates long-lasting positive effects and helps build positive school climate. Sandy offers "Nelson the Giant (NtG) Storytime", a fun and interactive learning experience for children in Kindergarten to Grade 3. For more information please visit: www.nelsonthegiant.com, or watch videos on Nelson's Facebook Page.
Amy Leask is VP of Enable Education. She might be willing to sing in public if it meant thumping out bullying.