What makes your heart sing?

by Bija Children's Choir

For high school graduates like my daughter who are entering the Santa Rosa Junior College this fall, not knowing what major to declare, which University of California to transfer to, or what to possibly do with their lives... and for those middle-aged adults on the other end of the spectrum who have chosen a path but who may now feel drawn to a shift towards other work, for more money, more flexibility, or a change of pace... for anyone wanting to know what is the right job/work for them to pursue, this is the question that in Carmine Gallo's book The Storyteller's Secret, Steve Jobs encourages us to ask ourselves... not-- what am I good at, or what do I love to do? but-- what makes my heart sing?  Therein lies our passions that can drive each of us to fulfill our highest potential-- the 'highest octave' of ourselves, to put it musically.      

Will "tone deaf" parents' singing harm a child's musicality?

by Bija Children's Choir

On Bija Children's Choir rehearsal days at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, parents occasionally inquire about an interesting subject. They claim, "My child loves to sing but I can't hold a tune!  Am I harming her musicality if I sing to her out of tune?"  My short answer is, no, as long as parents and children are enjoying singing with each other, the child is developing many more greater influences, such as cultivating a love for music, and a joy for singing with others.  

Children in these cases have many more outside-the-home opportunities to hear pitch-accurate singing as they're growing up, whether at school, on recordings, live performances, or with friends.  Often times if they enjoy singing, or have musical role models to look up to, they'll learn to sing in tune and quickly detect that mom or dad is singing out of tune.  They may even enjoy being the better singer in the family!  

Relatively few adults are clinically "tone deaf" (in which they can't distinguish one sung pitch from another), but many do have a rather loose sense of pitch-matching, or have little experience singing successfully in tune.  A lack of vocal training and confidence, often stemming from childhood criticisms and discouragement from harsh teachers, is a common culprit.  It's too bad that everyone isn't able to have Mr. Music (Jim Corbett) in their classrooms growing up, where his legacy stands for music to be every child's birthright and joy.  

From decades of my own music teaching to all levels and ages-- just as it is with sports or mathematics or fine arts-- some people are born with natural musical abilities while others have to work at it, but the fact still remains: there is much more to singing than maintaining accurate pitch.  Character, rhythmic vitality, generosity of spirit, confidence, tone, message-- are all essential elements of singing, too.   

Music is the language of emotion, the expression of humanity.  My opinion rests with the African proverb, "If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing." Amen!

- Maria Bija, Creative Director


Breathtaking Moments

by Bija Children's Choir

I love great quotes.  Powerful words that are simply put-- I believe-- inspire and remind us to keep on track with our highest selves in these fleeting moments called Time.

One my favorite quotes is found on the wall of Mekhong Thai Restaurant in Kennebunk, Maine:

"Life is measured not by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of times your breath is taken away..."

Yes, this is the reason why most of us who work in the Nonprofit Arts feel called to it; we live for those moments that make us-- and our audiences-- feel alive.  And there are many. 

As director for the Bija Choirs, moments such as the audience spontaneously singing along to a song as though they were family in the living room, or the multi-thousand person roar of applause at the climax of the Star Spangled Banner, or the command of sudden quiet in a previously crazy chaotic performance hall when our choirs took the stage-- are all breathtaking moments.  Audience members smile and shed tears while listening to our children sing-- their lives are touched.   Feeling 'moved' by a shared human-ness through music is a breathtaking thing.  

As another springtime is upon us, may the Bija Choir continue to produce life-affirming, breathtaking moments through song.


The Whole Performing Artist

by Bija Children's Choir

When I sat down for my first drum lesson in Ghana, West Africa, back in 1996, with a drum between my knees,  feet touching the clay earth and shaded by the trees, the teacher announced "And now, we are going to learn a dance called Boboobo."  Dance, I thought?  But this was supposed to be a drum class.  Which is what we did indeed do for two hours-- learn the percussion parts for a dance called Boboobo.  I eventually discovered that there did not exist any words in the Ewe language to separate the activities of drumming, dancing, and singing, as we have in English.  In the Ewe tradition, these are all part of the same one activity, which they translate into English as "dance."  And further, many of these dances had drama/acting elements, and each their own costume / artistic designs.  What a revelation it was, and a life-changing moment.  The "whole" performing artist is one who has a hand in it all -- the singing, the playing of  instruments, the dancing, the visual arts.  Surely there can be one area of particular strength and interest, but all of the other art forms are connected and meaningful to that one.  Having skills in each area only serves to enhance the total experience.  This holistic performing arts education approach is what I've sought to bring into the Bija Choir program, demonstrated by the dance workshops led by Julie Marques leading up to the Indian Story Concert last year, and this year a special Hawaiian Stage Set Art Workshop to be led by Meryl Juniper for our choir students to create their own stage props.  It is a gesture towards wholeness, which is a path towards the human experience of feeling most alive, I believe.           ~Maria