Posted on 03 December 2016.
Spotlight: Jen Myzel Swanson (Ms Jen) – Vocal Music
We welcome Jen Myzel Swanson to Crocker Highlands in her first year with us and look forward to the vocal concerts on December 13. Vocal Music is one of the many programs that are 100% funded by the Crocker Highlands PTA. Please support Annual Giving to keep these programs running.
Q: How many hours do you work at Crocker and how do you spend that time?
Ms Jen: 15 hours, and I teach all 18 classes once per week! I spend 13 of those hours teaching, and a few hours a week curriculum planning and preparing the materials for different lessons. The K-1 classes are 30 minutes long and grades 2-5 are basically 45 minutes (sometimes 40).
Q: What is your background in this role?
Ms Jen: I’ve been a musician for 8 years, with vocal and guitar as my two main instruments, which I learned through self-study and private lessons as a young adult. I have produced four music albums with a fifth in the works, the songs being very relatable to children and to the themes of living a healthy and sustainable life. I have worked with kids in summer camp and after-school settings in a range of roles from wilderness skill educator to mentor to tutor for eleven years. I also taught private music lessons during the 2015 school year before beginning at Crocker Highlands. In addition, I have been a facilitator of “The Work that Reconnects” workshops for adults and children focusing around the intersection of music and activism since 2014. I somehow am always either working or living with children, it’s what I love to do.
Q: Please give an overview of what you do in your role for and how it differs by grade. What are you covering now or plan to cover by end of year?
Ms Jen: What I aim to do is instill the joy and power of music in the children, as well as to teach them vocal techniques for becoming better singers as they grow older. I teach them music from different genres and time periods in order that history and culture can be learned through the music. In K and 1, I work with simpler songs that teach them singing, rhythm, rhyme, cadence, and sometimes other languages. Beginning with the 2nd grade age level, I do more complex songs and also begin to incorporate some song-writing. This first half of the school year my theme has been “Storytelling through Music” and we’ve done everything from the old English Folk Song “The Fox” to Boston’s political song “MTA Song” to the new hit hip-hop musical “Hamilton”. The second half of the year will have a different theme, which will be how to explore mood and emotion through music.
Q: What do you like about what you do?
Ms Jen: I love it. I feel very in touch with my inner playfulness and I can tell that most of the kids are having fun with me in music class. That is very important to me, because I believe music is one of those things throughout our whole lives that can help us both celebrate and get through hard times. I want to support them in developing an appreciation and connection to music, and I feel grateful that I’ve come into an already well-established music community, following in the footsteps of Jill Rose, who has been mentoring me as well. One of the things I love most is to see once the students have really learned the words, they get so passionate about singing the songs together. I also think singing together helps create class unity.
Q: Can you give me an example of how what you do has made an impact on a kid or kids at Crocker?
Ms Jen: I think that the kids are learning some new cultural context for the songs we’re learning, like indigenous people’s history through “Color’s of the Wind” and Boston political history through “The MTA Song”. I also think that music is an outlet for many of the kids to connect to a different part of their brains than the analytical mind, which feels very important, especially at this young and formational age.
Q: Anything else worth mentioning that parents might be interested in knowing?
Ms Jen: You can learn a lot about me by listening to my original music as well! It can be found at jenmyzel.net/music. The other thing that parents may want to know is that I am a close student of Bay Area elder, scholar and activist Joanna Macy and have been a facilitator of her work, The Work that Reconnects, for the last three years. This work is a bridge of environmental and social justice activism with spirituality, group practices to help us stay awake to our world during these uncertain times.
Thanks to all who support the PTA to keep Jen Myzel Swanson for Vocal Music as a program for our children which is employed through the PTA. To keep this and our many other wonderful programs running, please donate to the PTA through Annual Giving. Any amount helps!