Nine year old Sarai Brandel says Family Jam Night at South Nelson School gym is the best night of the month for her.
“We get to play music and I love music, so I have lots of fun. It makes me feel so happy.”
On the evening of March 12 more than a hundred parents and kids crowded into the South Nelson gym to sing and dance together in an extraordinary display of multi-generational community fun.
“The kids hound us all week about coming,” says Sarai’s mother, Carly Brandel. “They love Ms. Giffen. It’s their favourite class.”
As parents and kids arrive, Carmen Giffen, the full time music teacher at South Nelson, is helping her band — a group of adults playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboards — to set up, and helping some kids set up the projector to display the song lyrics.
Then, in a truly impressive display of multitasking, Giffen gets the singalong going, simultaneously shouting instructions, putting lyrics up on the big screen, leading the singing, playing the guitar or keyboard, handing out percussion instruments to kids, organizing changing combinations of duos and trios of kids who take the mic at the front to lead the singing — all of this on the fly, as the kids and their parents sing and play “Two Heads”, “Riptide”, “Free Falling”, “Shortin’ Bread”, Old Dan Tucker”, “Lean on Me”, “Wheat Kings” …
Some of the songs have actions, demonstrated and led enthusiastically by four girls up on the stage.
Then there’s a dance party (with the kids of course dancing much more imaginatively than the adults), with a rotation of volunteer child singers in twos and threes at the mic, leading the songs.
Mike Dalgleish, a South Nelson parent, has been to family jam night a few times. The first time was difficult — he says he was forcibly dragged there by one of his kids (a humourous scenario given that Dalgleish is a big, athletic man).
He says he’s a sports guy who is so non-musical and generally so non-artsy that the thought of coming to jam night for the first time was intimidating. He had to take a big step outside his comfort zone. But then he discovered he knew almost everyone there, including all his kids’ friends.
“It’s unreal the feelings you get, and everything is so cute,” he says. “Seeing my kids having a good time with everybody else, seeing the great job the teacher does with the music program. I definitely respect the fun and the feelings.”
Lu Ann Dietrich has a child in Grade Two and another entering kindergarten next year.
“I think it is a wonderful job of inspiring our children,” she says. “I feel excited, and proud to be part of this community. This is beautiful and Carmen is amazing.”
Giffen says she wants to “make it so that music programs no longer have to be advocated for, to enhance the public’s vision of music education and to bring it outside of the classroom doors.”
The jam nights, and other projects where the kids busk downtown and sing at Mountain Lakes seniors’ home, are the subject of a Master’s thesis she’s working on.
“My project is how can multi-generational music-making affect a school community. This is the most outside the box thing I have ever tried.”
At family jam night, parents tell Giffen that their kids eagerly participate because they feel safe.
“Teaching is about relationships and I have worked hard to build a high level of trust between these kids and myself so they want to participate. They are fighting over the mic. They don’t practice ahead of time, it does not have to be perfect, it is about participation rather than a performer and an audience.
“That little girl who said she wanted to lead True Colours in front of a hundred people, that was a cool, brave thing. I am just trying to build confidence and make the world a better place.”