Saturday morning, November 7, 10–10:50 CST

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Work and Family Interest Group

Yonatan Malin (University of Colorado), Chair

The Work and Family Interest Group meeting will feature a discussion of three lightning talks on music for and with children. Attendees are asked to watch the pre-recorded video presentations in advance if possible. We will also have a business meeting to welcome incoming co-chairs Inessa Bazayev and Rachel Lumsden and discuss future events and activities.

Lightning Talks: Music For and With Children

Teaching Chromatic Harmony with Children’s Music

Clare Sher Ling Eng (Belmont University)

Clare Sher Ling Eng is Associate Professor of Music Theory at Belmont University. Her research interests are the communication of closure, especially in music composed after 1900, and Sino-Western hybridity and influence in 20th-century Chinese and Western music. Her publications have appeared in Music Theory SpectrumJournal of Music Theory Pedagogy, and VoiceXchange. She is also mother of three children under the age of ten, whose musical interests have positively influenced her pedagogy, as elaborated in her presentation for this discussion. 


I have successfully used for some years now children’s music to teach chromatic harmony, in a course that is part of the undergraduate theory sequence required of all classical and commercial majors. My rationale for using this repertoire was threefold: to create learning activities that can connect with students who are unfamiliar with classical music, to show that chromatic harmonies can also be relevant to diatonic melodies, and to incorporate my identity as a parent of young children into my pedagogy. This lightning talk describes my journey in designing learning activities and the culminating composition project for this course, beginning with varying levels of engagement with nursery songs, before diversifying to include activities based on film and show tunes premiered by children. Examples that I will share include harmonizations by me or my students of tunes like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Five Little Monkeys,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “My Funny Valentine.” I shall also share excerpts from past student performances of culminating compositions, not only those that engage with children’s music, but also exemplary compositions in other genres and styles to demonstrate that teaching chromatic harmony using children’s music need not limit students’ creativity in composition projects. 

Music Theory in Early Childhood: An Integration of Structured and Unstructured Learning

Antonella DiGiulio (Buffalo State University)

Antonella Di Giulio is a pianist, a music theorist and a pedagogue. In addition to her doctoral studies in Music Theory and Musicology at the University at Buffalo, she holds a Master Degree in piano performance from the same University, post -diploma certifications in piano performance and pedagogy, a diploma in piano from the Conservatory Santa Cecilia in Rome (Italy). As a researcher, her interests are in music cognition, theory of images in music, music as a language, harmonic language in contemporary music, Italian composers in the 20th century, set theory and Mathematics. She presented her research in several national and international Conferences.  


Whilst research underlines both the importance of music and the role of play in early childhood, little attention has been directed to finding out how to constructively use playing activities to teach complex concepts in music theory. Quite a few studies show that informal, non-structured, elementary musical activities can boost the entire development of a child in early years (Gordon 2003). In addition, recent studies effectively demonstrate that the most successful pedagogical approaches are centered on a play-based methodology in the form of semi-structured and guided activities (Weisberg, Hirsh-Pasek, and Golinkoff 2013).

Following Bruner’s three modes of conceptual development (Bruner 1957), my presentation will explore ways to integrate structured and unstructured learning of music theory concepts in early childhood music classes. During the enactive learning activities, students will manipulate the sources of sounds. In the iconic phase, sounds are represented through images, pictures and drawings to finally transition then in the symbolic phase, during which abstract symbols are used to identify specific sections and define musical form.

For years, generations of more or less trained music educators have focused on directly “teaching” music theory to young kids, often referring to music theory as an abstract and difficult science. If we would like to go with the idea that music should just be part of human society and with the idea that music theory is simply the study of music, we should seek new and innovative methods to teach music theory in playful, but also effective ways.

Ruth Crawford Seeger and Songs for Children

Alfred Cramer (Pomona College)

Alfred Cramer is Associate Professor of Music at Pomona College, where he is also affiliated with the department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science. While much of his research is related to early twentieth-century modernism (particularly that of the Second Viennese School), a current project involves Woody Guthrie and the mid-twentieth-century American Folk Music movement. He remains an active violinist. This presentation on Ruth Crawford Seeger's music brings together all of these interests.

YouYoung Kang (Scripps College)

YouYoung Kang is Associate Professor of Music at Scripps College in Claremont, California where she teaches courses in music theory, European music history, East Asian Music, and Christian musical practices.  She also teaches courses in the Scripps interdisciplinary humanities curriculum.  Her research has focused on a wide range of topics including early music analysis, Korean and Korean American music, and the US WPA Federal Music Project of the 1930s.


After having achieved recognition as a modernist composer and produced sophisticated transcriptions for the 1941 Lomax publication Our Singing Country, Ruth Crawford Seeger turned her attention in the 1940s toward creating a music program at her children’s preschool. This volunteer work led to the publication of three songbooks. American Folk Songs for Children (1948), Animal Folk Songs for Children (1951), and American Folk Songs for Christmas (1953), which include traditional children’s songs and lullabies set alongside songs usually sung by grown-ups, some of which she gave new words appealing to children. Crawford’s piano accompaniments in these volumes are as simple as her modernistic compositions are complex—ingeniously crafted to evoke folk instruments and be played by pianists of average ability while teaching a preschool class. However, the easily recognizable repetitions of intervals and melodic patterns in her song arrangements connect these songs to her modernistic works with similar compositional elements. As Crawford argues in her introductions to these volumes, such musical repetitions not only make the songs easy to learn but also help develop musical intuitions in children.

Our discussion will be drawn from our experience directing a group of children to sing some of these songs in a 2015 concert which spanned Ruth Crawford Seeger's oeuvre, including modernist works such as her String Quartet 1931. In placing these songs at the heart of the concert, we hoped to demonstrate that the different musical styles reveal the same musician playing a multitude of equally important musical roles in her life.