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How Music is Like the Clothes We Wear - By Pip Hargrave

One of the reasons I’m passionate about music education is that music is such an amazing, universal language.

Music can break through cultural, age, and language barriers in an instant. Through music, we can communicate ideas and emotions without any words - we can express ourselves creatively without necessarily having to explain anything. Music can provide fulfillment and pleasure, it can reassure us and motivate us, it can unite us, and it can even move us to tears - of sadness or joy.

Humans have been using music for self-expression and to enhance experiences for thousands of years. We use it to celebrate, we use it to entertain, we use it for movement and dance, we use it to grieve and mourn, we use it to tell stories and as an expression of our different cultures. We even use music when socialising at parties, while we exercise, and to encourage certain emotions when watching movies. If you’ve ever watched a movie without the sound on, you’ll know how much the soundtrack enhances the experience. A horror movie seems far less scary and even quite amusing with the sound muted!

Whatever your culture and background, music is likely to have played a significant role in your life.

So how is music like the clothes we wear?

Like music, the clothes we wear are non-verbal expressions of ourselves and our circumstances. We might dress by the way we are feeling, or for a particular occasion or activity, or simply in order to align ourselves with a particular group. For instance, the comfortable tracky dacks and wind-cheater might come out when we’re feeling sad or sick. Power dressing tends to be associated with the business world and might help us to look and feel more assertive. We usually bring out the more formal attire to celebrate weddings or wear black to mourn the loss of someone we love. We buy jerseys of particular designs and colours to show the world which football team we barrack for. The ultimate non-verbal expression through clothing can be seen at the theatre where clever costuming conveys a huge amount about each character. What we wear communicates quite a lot.

Often music and clothing go hand in hand.

Again, the theatre comes to mind. Think of musicals, operas, ballets, rock concerts. Music and costume (and talent of course) are often combined to give us unique and memorable experiences. The music and costumes change as a story is told and we’re taken on a visual and musical journey.

Sports teams, along with their colours, also have a theme song - the first thing you hear if they happen to win. Olympic athletes wear special uniforms to represent their country and stand proud as they listen to their nation’s national anthem play after winning a gold medal. Whole decades are defined by music and fashion. You can probably name which decades the following examples represent:

Folk music and mini skirts.

Grunge music and ripped denim jeans.

Rock 'n' roll music and full skirts.

Heavy metal music and leg warmers.

Disco music and flared jeans.

Each generation is remembered for its particular fashions and musical styles.

As parents, carers, and educators of young children, we have a significant influence on the types of clothing they wear and the genres and styles of music to which they are exposed to. As children start developing more independence, it follows that they’ll also start to express themselves more through clothing and music. I remember learning this the hard way when my daughter was three and she and I had frequent battles about what she should wear. I slowly learned to let go of my own ideas about appropriate clothing and let her express herself by choosing her own (often interesting!) outfits, unless of course her health or the occasion called for intervention.

Similarly, children benefit enormously from creating their own music and having fun playing with sounds and instruments. It’s a fantastic way to get them used to experimenting and trying things out, which is technically learning to improvise. There is no right or wrong. Music has no boundaries and, like many art forms, musical creativity is limited only by our imaginations. Let’s play along with our children, have fun, be silly, allow them the freedom to discover. Long car trips provide a great opportunity for families to get creative with vocal sounds and body percussion.

With professionally produced music, it’s also important to give children the freedom to choose music that appeals to them rather than expecting them to share our own musical preferences. This seems to happen naturally when they become adolescents! I often encourage parents and carers in my classes to play a variety of musical styles at home so children have the opportunity to discover what appeals to them. At the age of ten, my husband was whistling the tune of Ode To Joy in the back seat of the family car. His parents mentioned that the tune was from a symphony composed by Beethoven and the following day they found a recording and played it to him. He was profoundly affected and has remained a huge fan of Beethoven’s music ever since. One of my four-year-old students recently discovered Dixieland Jazz and is fortunate to have parents that nurture and encourage his love for this particular style of music. Some music just seems to resonate on a personal level.

In my role as a Mini Maestros teacher, it’s a real privilege to witness children making musical discoveries and expressing themselves in class. It’s not unusual for them to be doing so while donning a dinosaur, fairy, or superhero outfit. It’s wonderful! I love how people from all walks of life can come along and share the experience. Some of us are loud, some are quiet, some are active, some prefer to observe. Yet, we can still enjoy listening to, dancing to, playing along to and making music together. Music really is a universal language.

I wonder what music your child will like to wear...

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