“Anyone can write a song. In workshops, I like to have everyone sing a part of each other’s song, so that we can all celebrate each other’s work and find a connection to each other as artists.”
A two-time international whistling champion, Emily has been known to whistle everything from opera to jazz. Her whistling has been featured on numerous recordings, used as live accompaniment to an art installation, and was recently the whistling “voice” of e-Bay. “Through whistling I am able to express my quirky side. I enjoy the element of surprise, and putting whistling together with singing, playing, and storytelling. Whistling balances the serious music, lightens things up.”
Her work with the Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute as a singer-songwriter includes leading workshops and developing materials for the national Lullaby Project, where teaching artists write lullabies with mothers and mothers-to-be. She also plays ukulele and leads frequent singalongs and song circles, and wrote a program of original children’s songs. “What the Star Says,” is a backward version of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” in which the star answers the children who sing to it at night.
“Teaching has been about putting my diverse interests into one bundle,” says Emily, “and helping people tap into their own artistry. It’s also been about making creativity and enjoyment the center of the experience, rather than virtuosity and precision. Teaching artistry is freeing, sustaining, and life-affirming to me, and it is the work in which I feel most as home, and most like I have something to offer.”
“I always come back to two ideas: 1) people love to learn, and 2) people love to be connected. I started teaching right after the recession hit in 2008, which was also when a lot of people were using various on-line mediums to study music. I taught a lot of group harmony classes, and it seemed that people were coming to sing in order to learn and continue with their love of music despite it being a stressful time.
“Someone once told me that a strong human need is to have others bear witness to their lives, and I feel as though I am working to allow my students to not only sing together, but to witness each other’s artistry and feel more alive for having been heard.”
How do you create a vibrant learning environment?
“I try to allow for a little goofiness or playfulness right at the top, both in myself and in an activity, in an effort to set up the idea that we are all here to have fun together, and to soak up the rich humanity in the room.”
How have you evolved as a teacher?
“A teaching mentor told me, ‘This is their communal experience. The class itself is the experience, it’s not just information upload.’ And that freed me up. Oh! We can repeat songs, the full experience should be here, right now.
“My dissertation research also changed me, learning the different ways you can think of the self. Don’t wait for technical proficiency to improvise, or compose. Do it now.
“In the Carnegie workshops, we talk about the somatic power of rocking and swaying, and about transitioning through movement from a more awake, peppy place, to a sleepier place. We also end up writing a lot of ROCK-a-byes or WAKE-a-byes which are pretty far from lullabies in terms of how energetic they are. In the singing circles, we end up using a fair bit of dancing and motion, keeping the kids engaged. It’s kind of interesting to see the concepts of ‘lullaby’ and ‘rhythm’ overlap in sometimes surprising ways. I would like to dive more into this whole rhythmic piece, making more connections there, and making the rhythmic part of making music as a parent-child duo even more explicit. Lullabies for Breakfast! Waltzing Lullabies! Whistling Lullabies. . . well, that’s another kettle of fish!”