Meet The Fellows...

Anne-Marie Akin
Chicago IL
Fellowship: 2018/17

“There is power in music,” says Anne-Marie. “It erases division. It destroys despair. It reminds us of our humanity.”

A singer-songwriter, poet, essayist, and baby-whisperer, Anne-Marie has spent most mornings of her life making music with infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers from low-income families. She specializes in helping parents and children express and connect through music, rhythm, and vibrant language. “Everyone has rhythm,” she says. “To be alive is to be musical.”

A teaching artist at Old Town School of Folk Music, she is also part of the National Lullaby Project, which pairs songwriters with teen moms to write personal lullabies for their children. In her spare time, she’s working on a book on the transformative power of singing.

“I was quite young when I learned the power of music to transcend boundaries. Playing my guitar with a group of elderly adults in a Chicago park, I started singing the South African liberty song 'Mbube'. A group of Muslim immigrants drifted over. A handful of teenage boys loitered nearby. Slowly this group of strangers came closer and closer, until we were all one group: old men on benches, women in colorful headscarves, slouching teenagers, all singing at the top of our lungs, united by a song in a language that none of us spoke.”

Teaching philosophy:
“There is no such a thing as a person who ‘has no rhythm.’ Our bodies, our Earth, our Universe are highly rhythmic -- pulsing with energy and life. Humans need to make music, and everyone deserves the time and space to do so free from judgment. As society advances technologically, we have gone from being music makers to merely music consumers. I want to remind people that they are musical creatures.”

How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
“I encourage playful vocalizing and improvisation. I echo the babies so they know I hear them. I put real instruments into their hands and allow them to explore. I respond to the music they make. I bring a variety of music with me so that we encounter other cultures together.

“I approach my work with a sense of sacred trust. I see myself as defending the right to be musical. I’m here to undo the damage done to those who were led to believe that if they weren’t the most talented person in the room, they had no business making music. I hand them a drum and show them how to keep the beat for me while I lead a song. If they stumble, I make it easier. I make sure they are successful. I show them that they are musicians.”

How do you foster youth leadership?
“I mostly get this opportunity when I’m working with teen moms, helping them create lullabies for their children. First, I model listening and respect and enthusiasm. I try to ask creative questions and give them space to answer. Then, once things are cooking, and their songs are happening, I try to step out of the way – to allow them to jump in and support one another. I encourage them to sing their own songs, and to sing for the other girls.”

How have you evolved as a teacher?
“When I first began, I saw myself as a performer. I have a background as an actress, and I’m good in front of a crowd. Over the years, I have observed that it can be helpful to fade back a little – to use my skills as a tool to get people excited about music, but not to overshadow them or their involvement. My goal is to help everyone find their musical and artistic voice. Because so much of what I do includes caregivers/teachers/parents, I try not to be the only ‘expert’ in the room. I spend more of my planning time building in entrees for the other grownups to join the music than I did when I was younger.

“I’ve also grown more patient, and I’ve learned it’s okay to slow down and wait for the ‘stragglers.’ I have a much broader understanding of all the ways people can be musical.”

What is an example of a good day teaching kids?
“Any day making music with kids is a good day! The magical days are when we hit a groove together – when everyone is wrapped in the music, and spontaneity begins. Dancing, stomping, clapping. vocalizing… I love it when the little babies start singing in their long babbling trills. I’ve had the privilege of watching more than one child take her first steps, caught up in the music. That’s a pretty special day, seeing that.”


(interviewed 2018)

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