Today was the first day of the 6th Cribs for Kids National Conference in Pittsburgh, and it was a great reminder of why I do what I do. Scientists, health professionals and policy makers concerned with the wellbeing of infants were all saying primarily the same thing - the goal of SIDS research is to gather evidence that will ultimately change behavior and create safe environments for newborns. There also seemed to be a consensus that more pamphlets and information delivered as it's always been delivered are not necessarily the answer. But that's where the arts come in. What moves people to incredible emotional highs and lows, spurs empathy and creates understanding better than stories? And drama? And music? Behavior doesn't change just because we have more knowledge. Behavior changes because we've heard someone else's story and we relate to it on a profound level. The story of how one couple, Maura and Sam Hanke, lost their son Charlie to SIDS is gut-wrenching. That tragic story told onstage through music sung by Charlie's sister can be life-changing for others. I say that's where we start. We communicate, we develop empathy, we change behavior. And we use the arts to do it.
I am a terrible party goer. While I enjoy a good birthday party or a graduation picnic, don't invite me to your candle party. My friends know this about me. I get a little grumpy when I feel like I'm being pressured to buy things that I don't need so you can get things that you don't need either. If you are offended by this, you won't understand the rest of this post. However, if you can relate, you may be interested in learning about my musicals.
To be fair, the candle party is the reason I started Musicals for Change, so I suppose there was a silver lining. By way of explanation, I was pretending to enjoy myself at the party one summer evening and hoping I'd at least win a door prize when it occurred to me that if I were going to gather people together, it would be for a good reason. A charitable reason, something that would result in an outcome better than a candle (candles are nice - they smell good, but there must be something more to life than the scent of Pumpkin Buttercream suppressing the odor of stinky shoes in my mudroom).
As a music educator and church choir director, I am responsible for numerous performances throughout the year. A well-performed concert is certainly an end in itself, and we all know the power of music. It can move people in a way that nothing else can. When you gather people together for a performance, particularly one involving children, you have a rapt, generally supportive audience. Why not do even more than lift spirits? Why not take it to the next level and inspire action? Create change for the greater good?
My first children's musical written with a greater purpose in mind was an adaptation of the book Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter. The book tells the true story of Beatrice Biira, a Ugandan girl whose family received the gift of a goat from Heifer Project International. The goat provided milk for Beatrice and her siblings and extra income from its kids which allowed Beatrice to attend grammar school all the way through college in the US. Our production of Beatrice's Goat featured a Ghanian narrator, African percussion, a cup tapping song, dancing 'goats,' and a live goat onstage. Enough money was raised by that one performance to purchase ten more goats for Heifer Project. The children also made a large graduation card for Beatrice, who happened to be graduating from college that same month. They were very pleased with not only their performance, but their ability to contribute to something greater than themselves.
Now I've written a total of five musicals for various causes. My most recent show, the Christmas musical No Crib for a Bed (to benefit Cribs for Kids®, a national organization dedicated to safe infant sleep) can be purchased at musicalsforchange.com. A portion of the purchase price will be donated to Cribs for Kids® and their partner organization Charlie's Kids to further their mission of providing cribs and safe sleep education to young families.
Musicals like this one have a very concrete mission, one that my young students can understand. In my experience, when children learn about a need and perform a story that inspires empathy, they want to make a difference. They just need adults to give them some direction. And when the parents watch their children perform with such earnestness, they are also spurred to act.
So candle parties are fine for some people, but don't invite me. Not unless you are sending the proceeds to someone who can't afford a meal, much less a candle. There is so much good to be done, too many stories to be told, and too many songs to be sung. Instead of buying a candle, just be the light.
Musicals for Change
Musicals for Change produces children's musicals which raise awareness and funds for worthy causes.