How do you communicate when words fail? Two ideas for inspiration

Lately, communication has been on my brain.  Our son just turned 9 months old a few days ago, and to be honest, I’ve never felt more challenged as a communicator than as a mom.  It’s been a crash course in identifying and naming all his cries, screeches, shrieks, and squeals. More than once I found myself asking – why can’t babies just talk already?

So, I started using baby signs with him, to help him make sense of his world a little better and give him some tools to tell me what he wanted.  He’s starting to learn them, but for the most part we still figure out what he wants based on his sounds.

As a musician, I wanted us to be able to connect with each other through music and rhythm – lullabies, dance parties, and teaching him how to play a baby-sized djembe drum (which he’s already rocking!).  We’ve had some of our best moments together this way.  Sometimes, when neither of us has the words, I flip on some music – any music – and away we go.  My husband has introduced him to Indian Bhangra music that he used to love to listen to, and our little guy loves to bop around to it.

Some ideas for inspiration

So, back to the question – how can we communicate when words fail us?

How many times have you said to yourself this year (or on social media), in response to something the world’s thrown at you – ‘I have no words.’

Below are two resources for you to watch, listen, and be inspired to use music to connect with others when words fail you.

Christine Stevens’ ‘3 Keys to Rhythm Conversations’

Christine Stevens is a facilitator, mentor, and highly sought-after keynote speaker in the field of music medicine.  Her “rhythm postcards” transport her audience to wherever in the world she is that week.

In her 2-minute video “3 Keys to Rhythm Conversations,” she drums an improvised piece with fusion musician Fantuzzi.  In the video description, she lists the 3 keys, which we can apply to any conversation, musical or otherwise:

  1. Take turns – listen just as much as (or more than) you speak
  2. Support each other’s creative ideas – go where the creative flow takes you, and use an open mind and heart
  3. Listen for a natural ending – know when it should be over, to allow room for something new to begin

Start with why – handpan drum inspo

Jeff Holland is a dedicated lifelong drummer, percussionist, and self-named “sonic artist.”  He’s one of the hardest workers I know, on a mission to inspire peace and compassion through sound – whether it be drumming, percussion, handpan drums, gongs, sound bowls, or something completely new.

In this 2-minute video, he takes his handpan drum (think an inverted steel drum) to the Grand Canyon and plays at sunrise to a 360-degree view of nature’s majesty.  No words, no introduction.  Just music and an unforgettable view.

Everything Jeff does, he does it with purpose and with the vision of bringing people of all backgrounds and ideologies together through the healing potential of rhythm and music.

I dare you to watch this video and not get goosebumps.  I invite you to sit in stillness for 2 minutes after watching and think about your purpose – not just your career, or your family, or your hobbies and interests – but your Purpose with a capital P.  What gets you up in the morning?  How are you living that purpose each day?  What action can you take to live that purpose more fully?

When the world outside becomes too much for me, I find comfort and rejuvenation in music – listening to it, making it, dancing to it.  Sometimes our favorite music can say what words can’t.

I hope this inspires you to flip on some music and get back in the groove.

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What I’ve learned from leading virtual programs this summer

With the recent spike in COVID cases around the country, many people and organizations are again reassessing the immediate need to get back to business, school, and more.  We’ve had a (relatively) busy summer filled with virtual programs for summer camps and libraries.
I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way when it comes to facilitating virtual programs on Zoom and similar platforms. Could any of these help you with your next remote meeting?

Be patient – be very, very patient

I’ve had the pleasure of facilitating mostly groups of kids during our online summer programs.  Now, working with kids takes lots of patience anyway, but add online technology into the mix and you’ve reached a new level of patience.

For the most part, I’m amazed at how well-behaved the kiddos are during the online sessions.  I’m assuming they’ve already sat for hours in front of a screen before they come to my program. But what takes patience isn’t their behavior (leaps and bounds ahead of the behavior for our in-person programs), but rather the technology.

Screens freeze.  Someone used the “old” Zoom invite link.  Adorable babies, dogs, and cats cry, jingle, and leap in the background. Your screen share suddenly doesn’t work and you have to apologize profusely while randomly pressing keys to make it look like you’re doing something to fix it.

It’s a lesson in patience for sure.  Take a deep breath, laugh about it, and move on.

Adapt – go with the flow

Speaking of moving on, those technology foibles make it necessary for us to adapt quickly to change and think on our feet (even when we’re sitting on our keasters).

A little background – my laptop is 5 years old, which in computer years is about a zillion.  It doesn’t know how to run Zoom and share audio or video at the same time.  So I started using my husband’s old laptop (curiously older than mine) to do Zoom calls where I need to do more than just speak.

It’s a comfort to know others are in the same boat, and we can be patient with one another when things go awry.  Computer not working?  Dial in on your phone.  Missed the live call because your dog threw up all over the floor of your ‘home office?’ Catch the recording.  Adapt!

Be real

Last, recognizing the enormity of the situation but still being able to take it lightly are paramount.  Do you feel more yourself in some ways on a Zoom call?  That’s because we don’t have to deal with the usual social hierarchy that tends to be present at in-person meetings and events – your boss might be taking the call in the laundry room because the kids are trying to home-school at the dining room table.

Seeing everyone at home in their domestic element (at the mercy of WiFi, kids’ and pets’ needs, lawn people right outside their window) paints everyone in the same light.  It breeds authenticity in a way that just can’t be achieved in a board room.

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An open letter concerning the death of George Floyd

Dear friends of Just Add Rhythm,

Considering the horrific and senseless acts of violence, rioting, and looting surrounding the death of George Floyd, I, like many others, feel compelled to speak.

We can no longer avoid uncomfortable conversations around racial injustice.

While I prefer our communications with you to be inspiring, educational, and filled with joy, I understand that everyone is getting weary.  This year has piled one thing on top of another for our country and our planet.

As an individual, I acknowledge that I have benefited from white privilege in my lifetime.  Although in the past I have traveled to African countries and learned what it’s like to be in the minority, I can never fully understand what it’s like to be Black in America.  While I have experienced bullying, teasing, and minor incidences of gender discrimination, that doesn’t come close to what people of color have had to endure in our country over so many generations.

As a mother, I am called to do better and be better, to set an example for my son, and ensure that he grows up a compassionate, empathetic, and open-minded individual.

As a small business owner, I acknowledge that I have had an easier path than some in starting my business, and receiving help and support from friends, family, and community members – surely easier than many entrepreneurs of color who may have had to do more with less.

Here is my promise to you, my dear friends and colleagues:

  • I will listen and learn. Starting with Student Maid founder Kristen Hadeed’s book suggestions on systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death, I’m going to embrace the uncomfortable and learn how I can become a better ally to people of color. I’m also learning about the work of the Center for the Study of Social Policy.  What additional resources do you recommend? How else can I learn? Please let me know.
  • Just Add Rhythm’s mission is to work with all ages and backgrounds of people to introduce the joys and benefits of rhythm to them. We’ve created a mini series of recorded interactive sessions for children ages K-5th called Best Beats, which focuses on mindfulness, empathy/compassion, teamwork, and community. It is our intention and responsibility to provide opportunities for the next generation to access these important skills and qualities and reinforce love over hate one child at a time.  In fact, all our programs, both in-person and virtual, emphasize these qualities for every population and age group we serve.  They always have, and they always will.
  • I will use my voice when the situation calls for it. When I’m confronted with hate speech or close-mindedness, I will call it out.  When there is an opportunity to share credible information, I will do it.  If all you need is a smile, a word of encouragement, or a sympathetic ear, I’ve got those too.

I am here for you.  Just Add Rhythm is here for you.  We will continue to share the joy of rhythm that unites all human beings, the rhythm that beats in everyone’s chests, the rhythm that flows in every part of nature throughout our planet.

Will you join us?  Please reach out and let us know how we can support you, your loved ones, your company, or your community through rhythm.

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