It’s always exciting and intimidating for me to put together a written interview for a musician. This one was no different. After listening to Family Values, set to be released in October, and reading through Charity and the JAMband’s website, I set to work. But my questions pale in comparison to Charity’s responses. She touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes and that was just in the first paragraph of the first answer. You’ve been warned. Hope you’ve got some Kleenex handy.
Me: Charity, welcome to Because Babies Grow Up. We’re excited to have you here! Let’s start with your personal connection to music. How has music influenced your perspective on life?
Charity: I was raised in a musical household where both parents were professional musicians and music teachers. They both had Masters degrees in Music from UW Madison, and had their own piano studio where they taught most of the kids from our small Wisconsin town. My mom also taught music in the schools for many years, my dad was the church organist, and they were both choir directors. I can remember lying under the piano listening to my dad’s fingers fly, and feeling the amazing vibration of the tones in my very bones. I was hooked from an early age, and music, in some very real ways, was the lens through which I saw the world, and the vehicle through which I experienced it.
From the time I was a small child, I was aware of the value placed on music and the arts in my family. Practicing the piano was just as high a priority as homework, chores, church, time with friends. I believe this gave me the gift of believing in the importance of the arts in people’s lives, the freedom to pursue music as a career, and the trust that the joy I felt while playing, performing, and sharing music was a valid and even necessary part of being fully human. I believe that every person is deeply creative at their core, and that their gifts just need the opportunity and right conditions in order to be discovered and nurtured. I believe every person should have the chance to express themselves creatively. This concept is at the core of my work with children and families, and of my own work as a singer-songwriter/recording artist.
I also think music taught me a lot about the importance of discipline and practice — daily practice. Anything I’ve ever truly mastered in my life (or strive to master, like parenting!) has been something that has had a daily (or almost-daily) practice component. Learning this early on primed me to not expect success or mastery to come quickly and easily, but only after dedication, time, and weathering the difficult and less comfortable parts.
Finally, music has brought me infinite joy — performing it, writing it, listening to it, practicing it, sharing in other people’s joy around it. It has taught me that there is something you can’t quite pin down and you can’t quite define out there, and it comes through people, speaks through people, often in the form of music, art, dance, creativity. Music has been a way for me to connect spiritually with the world, as it provides a conduit to a magical and profound consciousness I can’t understand or explain. I often feel as if songs come through me, rather than being written by me. This speaks to a power greater than me, and I feel grateful to have experienced this connection through my relationships to music, nature, and my family.
Me: How has motherhood affected your music? How has music affected your experience as a mother?
Charity: Becoming a mother was the final step in having the courage to sing my songs and create a professional life that centered around my music. I had been writing songs and playing in bands for years, but only in the cracks and as a sideline to other more “real” jobs (math teacher, software engineer, author). But after I walked through the mommy door, something profound happened and my heart melted and opened enough for me to hear my true calling. It seemed strange and surreal to be doing anything other than music at that point, since deep down I had always known that I wanted to sing and dance and create music more than anything else in the world. So my children were really the kick in the pants to follow my heart. They reminded me every single day, in their innocent baby-way, that I had better follow my heart because this life is really for real! And, of course, that’s when I started writing children’s music and working with families, which is so full of joy and hope and fun and so rewarding.
Also, I think being a musician, performer, and creator helps me keep in good working order certain behaviors and skills that I believe are crucial to my being the best mother I can be: understanding the importance of play; going with the flow and letting go of expectations; being present for what the child is bringing; being willing to look at difficult emotions (theirs and mine ;-); remaining open-minded and full of wonder; and maintaining grace and peace-of-mind in environments and situations that contains an inherent amount of chaos. I am not, by any means, saying I am perfect at all these things every moment, every day. But I do have the intention of being this kind of mom, and bringing these qualities (values!) to the process, and I believe my work as a performer and songwriter helps strengthen these muscles and sharpens these skills because they cross over so frequently.
Me: Your new album, Family Values, focuses on a set of “human family values.” How did you narrow it down to these values?
Charity: We were recording the song We Are the Ones — which is all about mindfulness, taking care of each other, and being here, now — and I was having trouble figuring out what should go in the bridge section of the song. The chorus and verses came to me quickly, but this one section was proving more intractable. Since I hadn’t yet articulated the values in any other song on the record, and I still wasn’t quite sure of the final list (it was hard to narrow down, because there are so many wonderful things to aspire to!), I decided to see if they might fit into this section as spoken-word.
Once I started down that road, the values sort of fell into place. I’ve had a Buddhist-inspired meditation practice for the past six years which has really changed and improved my life, and many of the philosophies of Buddhism speak deeply to me and the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people I want to bring up my children to be. So I did some research and honed in on sixteen values that felt important to me, and that I felt would resonate with anyone, no matter what their religion or culture. Those values — lovingkindness, compassion, joy, equanimity, patience, understanding, generosity, community, intention, non-harming, gratitude, respect, mindfulness, waking up, truth, and peace — became the final list of sixteen.
The most important characteristic is that they are all inclusive, and speak to a vision of a peaceful, loving world. And who wouldn’t want that for themselves or their children, or for any child, or for any human being, for that matter? It seemed like a list we could all aspire to, no matter our race, creed, politics or beliefs. That’s why I call them “human family values”. The Lovingkindness practice says it all: May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be safe. May all beings be at peace.” I want to raise children that feel this way toward their fellow humans, and I imagine that to be a universal desire among parents.
Me: How do you envision families responding to Family Values and incorporating it into their family life.
Charity: My hope is that whatever a family’s political, religious, or cultural orientation, they will hear a message of love and kindness in the music that they are inspired to share with each other and their communities. I hope children learn the words and sing along and bring the music into their schools. I hope families have dance parties in their living rooms. I hope parents sit down with their children to peruse the lyric booklet, and talk about the song-related quotes that I sprinkled throughout (from the likes of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Mr. Rogers, etc) and have the big conversations about what it means to be a good person. I hope it inspires families to be generous, honest, peaceful, joyful. I hope it inspires families to learn about mindfulness and perhaps incorporate some of those practices into their lives (an awesome resource: http://www.plantingseedsbook.org/) I hope it inspires families to make a list of their own family values and what is most important to them. I hope it makes people happy!
I am also planning on releasing a monthly song/value/activity program, through which I’ll address one of the values, tie it to one of the songs, and suggest some activities families can do together to explore the meaning of the value. I will be launching this on September 17 with the song We Are the Ones, and the value of Mindfulness. I hope families will find this additional resource useful in their experience of the album.
Me: Thanks, Charity, for sharing your time and talents with us.
I love that Charity is pairing a value with a song and offering an activity for families to enhance their experience with Family Values. If you are interested in following along with her monthly releases, you can sign up for her newsletter on her website: JamJamJam. I also love that we’ve been doing something similar here with Mixed Media, a song and activities/art projects/whatever inspired by that song. I think about music in a whole new way now!
What values would you choose to represent your family?