Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Joy of Tomato Soup

There are not many workplaces in the world where someone would say, “I can play tomato soup on the drum!” and it would be a moment of great happiness and celebration. But that’s what happened to me today when a five-year old student said that very sentence on the way out of music class.
I imagine you would like an explanation.
The short story is that an old call and response song from the Georgia Sea Islands has been one of my go-to songs for introducing jazz to beginners. The leader sings a phrase and the group responds with “Soup, soup!” At the end of the song, the leader sings as many soups as he/she can imagine (tomato soup, minestrone soup, miso soup, etc.). This simple song effortlessly teaches a vital jazz syncopation and creates a solid structure for improvisation.
With the 5-year-olds today, I made a game where each child in turn had to sing a soup. The challenge was that they couldn’t repeat a soup or hesitate before singing. Our goal was to get all the way around the circle of 12 kids without a mistake. That was not easy for them—and thus, it was a worthy challenge.
After inch-by-inch progress, they finally got all the way around the circle (Hooray!!) and earned the right to play the xylophones. Their first job was to play that “soup, soup” response on one note and their second to improvise a two-note melody following the rhythm of their chosen soup. I accompanied with guitar and each got a solo in turn and may I say, it was swingin’!
And then walking out of class, one of the kids played the rhythm of “tomato soup” on two drums and joyfully exclaimed the topic sentence above. Now this is a child who has had difficultly with focus and rhythmic coordination (no big deal—at 5 not a cause for worry, just something to note). But in this moment, that child independently made a connection—“I can sing those words, play them on the xylophone and also play them on the drum!”—and it was a revelation of sorts for him/her. Those are precisely the kind of little breakthrough moments I’m watching for in the children. And myself.
So whoever you are, wherever you work, whatever you do, I hope you can have a moment when a colleague, boss, fellow worker, customer, joyfully proclaims the equivalent of:

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