The Positivity Project and Music

By Red Grammer

Music is ‘sticky’. It has been used very effectively over the years to sell almost everything from cars to chocolate.  But it can also help kids learn their times tables, find their way into the world of the written word, or make a history lesson come alive.  What gets me excited is how music’s ‘stickiness’ can help kids connect to their better selves; to acquire the skills of social engagement and cooperation; to be a joyful participant in the building of community; to be happier human beings.

As a songwriter and performer for kids, families and classrooms I am always trying to write songs that are catchy enough to be ‘sticky’, that reflect truths about character and life, and are written in artful and/or playful enough ways so that their words and melodies find their way into kids’ hearts so that they can well up inside them just when they’re needed.  What follows is a true story of a girl and a song and a teacher.

(Note: Each song title is linked to its mp3 audio file so you can access right from this page.) 

The song:

See Me Beautiful by Kathy & Red Grammer

See me beautiful, look for the best in me

It’s what I really am and all I want to be

It may take some time, it may be hard to find

But see me beautiful

 See me beautiful, each and every day

Could you take a chance, could you find a way

To see me shining through in everything I do

And see me beautiful

Told by the teacher, Barbara Selvaggi of Portland, Oregon:

“One wonderful story that I hold in my heart is of a 9-year-old girl who was failing in school on every front. I met her parents and we decided that she should attend my preschool for her emotional development and as a place to get away from the ugly comments from the children at her public school.  We registered her as a homeschooler and she did her age-level school work in a quiet place when the younger preschoolers were napping. The rest of the time she danced around and was the teacher’s “helper.”

I received many strange looks from the other parents and many challenges about her being with us in our very young environment. She was a very skinny and withdrawn-looking child and very much the “Ugly Duckling” of our small community.

On Mother’s Day, we planned a luncheon for the mothers to attend and the children performed. When our special duckling was asked what she would like to do, she said dance. (She danced all day everywhere and anywhere she was.) I chose the song “See Me Beautiful” for her performance. She practiced and practiced and when she danced for the mothers, there was not a dry eye in the room. The message was loud and clear.

She left us after a year and went back to public school and I lost track of her. 10 years later, as I was shopping, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Do you remember me?” I turned around and my eyes saw this beautiful, tall, graceful young woman standing smiling at me. A beautiful Swan. I stated I did not know who she was. She identified herself and softly said, “Thank you!” She told me she had taken the song and sung it to herself when times got rough and her memories of being able to just dance her days away. She told me she went on with her dancing and had just won a scholarship to her desired dance school in New York. She stated she would never forget “her song” as she called it and still uses it with different words, changing them from “See me beautiful” to “I am beautiful.” “I see the best in me.”          

There are multiple wonders in this story.  First, there is the openness, flexibility, and discernment of this fine teacher.  Second, there is the gift of dance embedded in the little girl which is a token of the hidden gifts embedded in each and every one of us.  Then there is the resilience and perseverance that the girl’s gift of dance calls forth from her.  And lastly, there is the magic of the music that helps connect the dots for all involved, including the Moms at the Mother’s Day celebration.  Sometimes our hearts need a little help to connect the dots.  Music can be really good at that.

Some songs do this through silliness and humor like “Use A Word” or “Shake Your Brains”…

Use A Word by Kathy & Red Grammer                                                                                                 

When someone makes you slip and you want to bruise their lip, Use A Word                

When someone grabs your book and you go for your left hook, Use A Word                 

We can work it out, that’s what words were invented for                                                     

We can work it out, it’s the best way there is for sure                                                          

To fight over something is absurd                                                                                         

So for Pete’s sake, Use A Word. 

Shake Your Brains by Kathy & Red Grammer                                                                              

You’re heading outside with your friends to play     

When your Momma says, “Take your little brother today.”                                                 

“But the big kids are fast and the little kids are slow.

What game can we play together?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve gotta shake your brains, figure it out.

There’s no need to scream or shout.

You’ve gotta work that thing you’ve got upstairs.

You’ve gotta act-i-vate what’s under your hairs.”

Others find their way into kids’ hearts through the sweetness and the reassurance of the melody and the message it carries like “I Think You’re Wonderful”.  When I sing this song with kindergartners or pre-schoolers they will often spontaneously hug each other…

I Think You’re Wonderful by Kathy & Red Grammer

I think you’re wonderful 

When somebody says that to me

I feel wonderful, as wonderful can be

It makes me want to say

The same thing to somebody new

And by the way I’ve been meaning to say,

“I think you’re wonderful, too.”

When I sing “On The Day You Were Born” to a group of 4th graders the kids will almost always say, “Oh, it’s so and so’s birthday next week… sing it for him!”

On The Day You Were Born by Kathy & Red Grammer

On the day you were born, on the day you were born, on the day you were born

The angels sang and they blew on their horns

And they danced, they danced

They smiled and raised up their hands

On the day, on the day that you were born

Other songs hit a recurring challenge head on like “Patience” or “Respect”

Patience by Red Grammer & Pamela Phillips Oland                                                                                                                         

Waiting!  Waiting!  Waiting’s so hard for me to do                                                                 

Nothing seems to happen when I want it to                                                                       

Wishing, Hoping, Wanting won’t change my misery                                                               

So when I get impatient this works for me

I Breathe in!  Breathe out!

Wiggle ‘n squiggle my shoulders—Shake the crazies all about

And then I count – (1-2-3-4-5) to ten (6-7-8-9-10)

And if I’m still impatient I do it all again

Respect by Red Grammer & Pamela Phillips Oland  

If I respect you and you respect me

And we respect each other what a world this will be

You’ll be glad I’m me – and I’ll be glad you’re you                                                                

‘Cause that’s just what folks who respect each other do.

 It’s really important to mention here… you do not have to have musical gifts to take advantage of the gifts that music has to offer you and your class.  All you need is a heart that is open to the opportunities for connection and conversation-relevant songs present.

Here’s a song that makes the oneness of the human family apparent without ever explicitly saying it.  Kids love it.

Places In The World by Kathy & Red Grammer

These are places in the world

Some you know, some you don’t, some you’ll visit, some you won’t

Some are near and some are far, some sound exotic like Zanzibar

Cause these are places in the world…

Bombay, Cape May, Mandalay, Baffin Bay

Baghdad, Leningrad, Ashkabad, Trinidad

L.A., Norway, Paraguay, Monterey,

Singapore, Ecuador, Bangalore, Baltimore

These are places in the world…

Glasgow, Oslo, Fresno, Tsingtao

Faukland, Auckland, Yucatan, Disneyland

Libya, Namibia, Romania, Pennsylvania

Bora Bora, Walla Walla, Costa Rica, Bratislava

These are places in the world…

High on a mountain, down on the plain,

deep in the jungle in the middle of the rain

Children laugh and children play, everywhere, everyday

Cause these are places in the world

I believe that kids are inherently wired to be positively social and to want to become the best they can be.  Of course, life happens and sometimes these pre-wired “circuits” don’t get triggered properly.  But a caring and thoughtful teacher and a supportive classroom can create the safety and love to warm up and bring these dormant circuits to life… exactly what the Positivity Project is all about.

There are two resources I joyfully offer you in your work:

  1. An audio guide that pairs relevant award-winning songs of mine with each of The Positivity Project’s character strengths, and includes a link for each song to a page with its playable song file, lyric sheet, and sign language videos (where applicable).
  2. A video guide that pulls from over 100 episodes of my “Morning Visits with Red” (5-8 minute musically-infused video posts) and pairs them up by theme with the corresponding Character Strength. One teacher recently wrote: “I am so grateful for these Morning Visits with Red.  I have been teaching virtues in my classroom for the past 4 years.  This year I’m an online teacher, so with my virtues, I’ve added Morning Visits with Red.  It is a wonderful way to get the kids engaged first and discussing heart things.  Can’t thank you enough.”

These both can be used to add fresh energy and new avenues of engagement to your exploration of the P2 Character Strengths.  Bravo for the fine work you are doing!

Red Grammer

Red Grammer is a Grammy-nominated, multi-award-winning recording artist/songwriter/performer. He has been featured on the Today Show, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and at many of America’s finest performing arts centers. Red has brought his songs of connection and community to thousands of elementary schools across the country. He is also a frequent keynote and workshop presenter at national and regional educational conferences.