Ritual, Remembrance, and Ridiculousness

dadsingingNovember is a month where we celebrate Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, and Thanksgiving, reminding us of who we have lost and what we are thankful for. Year after year, we continue rituals of gathering together for food and fellowship. At YCCA in November, we focus on Native American music, recognizing the importance of ritual, through chanting and drumming.

November will always be a hard month for me as it marks the anniversary the death of my dad, Doug Gentry. After battling cancer for 18 months, he died peacefully on Nov. 9, 2013 at home in Ashland, OR. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to honor his memory and continue his legacy as he faithfully wrote a blog following his experience with cancer from beginning to end.

I wanted to create my own ritual as a way to celebrate and remember my dad in my clinical work. I decided to use the song “Waddaly Atcha” (spelling is debatable depending on who you ask) with my preschoolers during the month of November. While it has nothing to do with Native Americans or Thanksgiving, for me this song is all about ritual, remembrance, and most importantly, ridiculousness. Waddaly Atcha was my dad’s speciality. At boy scout gatherings, campfires, family reunions, Rotary meetings, and even at my rehearsal dinner, he led this song with great gusto and enthusiasm. He didn’t always consistently sing in one key, but his silliness and love for trying to build community through song made it wonderfully authentic and engaging for people of all ages. I even helped lead this song at his memorial service because it embodied his desire to connect with people in a positive, carefree way. Needless to say, this song means a lot to me.

When choosing a song to use in a music therapy intervention, it is always imperative to have the clinical intention in mind; as music therapists, we can’t simply choose songs to use that we enjoy. We constantly have to ask ourselves, “Why is this particular song or musical activity going to help the client reach their goal or objective?” I am the first to admit that I mainly wanted to use this song for personal reasons. But luckily Waddaly Atcha has inherent qualities that are very fitting for my goals for my little ones.

  1. Crossing the midline – As we know from research, as our brains are developing in our early childhood years, more and more connections are being made in the brain. This is especially important between the right and left hemispheres. One of the ways to encourage these connections between the two sides of the brain is to cross the midline physically. This can include touching your right hand to your left shoulder, or stepping your left foot over your right. In Waddaly Atcha, we cross the midline several times, in the shuffling of the hands and the “nose to shoulder” movement. This “nose to shoulder” movement is the hardest for my youngest kids. They end up touching their right hand to their right shoulder instead of crossing their bodies, even though I am visually showing them the correct way right in front of them. Those connections to the other side of the brain are just still forming. 
  2. Increasing mastery –  None of the preschoolers get the hang of this on the first try; adults don’t either! But by repeating the song, day after day, week after week, they begin to piece together the words and motions, and you can see the excitement and pride in their faces when they finally can keep up!
  3. Promoting self-expression and self-esteem by having fun! – This is where the ridiculousness comes in. For this short little song, the kids can just be silly. They are given permission to flail their arms as they desperately try to imitate me and giggle the whole time. Most importantly they see their authority figure (me) also being incredibly silly and ridiculous. When you are two years old, being silly is so important. When you are thirty-two years old and working with two year olds, being silly is even more important.

One of the projects I have helped start at YCCA is a monthly video where the music therapists and interns record a video of various songs we will be using that month and send it to the parents so they can sing the songs at home. Here is my segment from this month’s video. Several parents have already remarked that they have enjoyed (and struggled!) singing this song at home with their kids.

I still have a few more days in November to use Waddaly Atcha and continue on my dad’s ritual. Then when the month is over, I will put it to rest and wait until next November. I am all for new traditions that not only help me in my clinical work, but honor my personal life as well.

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