Cynthia Changaris Storyteller and owner of the Storyteller river House

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Cynthia Changaris
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Singing with Stories for Children.

Cynthia Changaris writes…
Songs, rhythms and rhymes are a strong way to connect to children. I use singing and rhythms, finger-plays and rhymes in my work to develop an immediate response from the children, to connect to their previous knowledge, and to let them know this event is going to be fun and interactive. It allows me to issue an invitation, “Come on! Come along with me.”

When babies are in their mother’s womb, they are exposed to sounds, music from the outside, banging, etc. But, the most regular sound they are exposed to, which is a constant for them is the beat, beat, beat of the mother’s heart. This sound is often accompanied by the rocking of the mother’s body as she goes about her work. We are inborn with a connection to music that goes back to our inception and moves forward with us as we grow. That makes music a powerful bridge for children in their learning.

When performing as a storyteller there are many ways to use songs. I use songs that stand alone, songs that relate to the subject of the stories, songs that connect a group of stories together, songs that teach wonder and reverence for the humanity and the world, songs that are sung by the character in the story, songs that are repetitive and provide an interlude or a point of movement of the story, songs to frame the story, and songs that are stories. I use songs that allow and encourage body hand and facial movement. I sometimes create songs as I tell a story.

When I am leaving a storytelling event and hear the children humming or singing one of the songs I have put together with the story, am delighted. As they walk away humming, or reciting a chant, I know the story has entered their lives and their hearts.

Twenty-eight years ago when my first-born was a toddler and I was an assistant professor working in the College of Nursing, I decided that I wanted to learn to work with children and music. I have always loved to sing and always had a song in my heart, so I found Ruth Crawford Seeger’s American Folk Music For Children and read it from cover to cover. I sat down at a piano and plinked out the unfamiliar songs, and took time to enjoy the songs I did know.

Ruth Seeger had gone into the archives at the Library of Congress and discovered a wealth of folk songs for children, then used these songs in a Pre-school for 3 years, teaching and playing with the children. The strength of this book is the songs, which under gird our cultural heritage. In addition, and more important for me is also the way she demonstrates teaching and changing the songs, playing with the songs, helping the children put the songs and melodies in their body, their hands, their minds and their heart.

When I discovered Storytelling in 1983, at the Corn Island Festival, it was natural for me to watch carefully the tellers who did use music in their work, people like Doug Lipman, Heather Forrest, Michael Parent. I got more books of songs at the library. I checked out tapes at the library of children’s songs. I drenched myself in children’s music, and when I found one I liked, I collected it, put it in my repertoire and used it. I have been doing this ever since. While driving down the road, I will have a story pop into my head and think, “Oh, here’s a song goes well with that story!” That is my creative process and what gives me joy, discovering good songs and developing connections to story that will delights me and the kids.

Cynthia is the owner of the storytellers river house in Bethlehem, Indiana 47104