One Happy Family: Notes of Camaraderie

Amidst the trials and tribulations of a society facing the monumental challenges of youth violence,
occasional glimpses of our greatest humanistic potential are remarkably refreshing. While most people
expect extraordinary lessons from world leaders, renowned scientists, Pulitzer Prize winners or gifted
artists, sometimes our greatest teachers simply walk among us – for the most part unnoticed or
unrecognized.

It never ceases to surprise me how the most valuable insights and solutions surface from some of the
most unexpected places. That snowy Tuesday morning when I met them was no exception.

It was shortly after 8:00 am when they gathered together. Nonchalantly, they filed into the small
room. It was a lackluster morning – there was nothing particularly exciting or unusual about to occur.
The only thing out of the ordinary was the fact I was present to observe and interact with them.
Otherwise it was simply a typical Tuesday morning.

Within a few minutes the last member of the group arrived. My presence didn’t seem to affect them at
all. Ready and willing to commence, they picked up their tools and nodded.

I’m certain they didn’t understand the magnitude and the importance of what they were really doing
that morning. Before me was a simple yet elegant approach for addressing one of the most frightening
problems our society will ever face – school violence.

Actually they weren’t government consultants, behavioral experts or medical professionals. Only one
of them was a grown-up. The rest were 5th and 6th graders at Saegertown Elementary School. Their
tools were basic instruments that had been in the school system for years. Their mentor was Jason
Ashbaugh, a dedicated and charismatic music teacher.

And as he lifted his hands, a group transformation was immediately apparent. The room seemed to
suddenly change as well. It was filled with smiles, delight and determination. It was as if the
teacher literally turned on a switch. As their hands connected with those colorful Remo
floor-standing hand drums, intricate rhythms flooded the corridors of the elementary school which had
now been transformed into an arena of jubilant creative expression. In seconds they were synergy in
motion – a symphony of individuality and appreciation for one another.

Their rhythms were upbeat and lively. Their focus was intent yet relaxed. Their sense of pride was
obvious. And their music was no less than fascinating.

Through eye contact, expressive nods and rhythmic nuances, the group gelled on many levels. Few words
were spoken, yet communication through self and group expression told a powerful story about our
greatest human potential to work together in harmony.

As quickly as the session began, it came to a close – thirty-minutes seemed to pass in just a few
heartbeats. As hands lifted from instruments, each child took a deep sigh and nodded at their
teacher. His gentle smile and warm expression conveyed a simple yet apparent affirmation of pride
each child immediately recognized. As sighs turned to smiles, success reverberated throughout the
room.
Then I had the chance to speak with them. Each question revealed more than I expected. The following
7 insights emerged:

  • The opportunity to get together and play the drums is a privilege.
  • While love of music resounds as a common theme, the children love their teacher even more.
  • Even at a young age, the stress reduction benefits of playing drums together are universally
    understood and appreciated by the children.

  • Making music is simply a delightful way to begin a new day.
  • Drumming together is a great reason for getting out of bed and coming to school each day.
  • Drumming is fun!
  • A sense of togetherness and belonging is needed. As one girl proudly stated, “We’re one happy
    family.”

As I drove back to my office that snowy morning, images of the children, their music and their teacher
(truly an “unsung hero” pardon the pun) warmed my soul. It wasn’t the activity that moved me as much
as their lessons for all of us.

Jason Ashbaugh, an elementary school music teacher in western Pennsylvania, shows us that combining
one’s love for children with opportunities for recreational music-making builds bridges on solid
foundations of camaraderie, caring, nurturing and creative expression. I refer to their activity as
“recreational” but not for an obvious reason. According to Merriam Webster, it is derived from the
word, “recreatio,” which actually means “restoration to health.”

If every child in our nation began each day with an interactive program that taught tolerance, respect
and appreciation for one another, perhaps Columbine would have been no more than an ordinary town in
Colorado. Isn’t it time we worked together to preserve and restore the health of our nation’s
children?

While you might be convinced that recreational music-making cannot be fit into every child’s schedule,
I beg to differ. For Jason’s group doesn’t meet on occasion. Drumming together is available every
school day (it has for the last 5 years) thanks to an extraordinary teacher, a dedicated Principal and
a model school system willing to enable its children to express the music of their hearts as one happy
family – Mind Over Matter!

© 2001 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved

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Barry Bittman MD Written by Barry Bittman MD

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