From the President

by Jake Harkins

June 2023

Happy Spring!

It was a pleasure to welcome so many of you to Boston in March for our first East Coast 2023 SongWorks Conference: Playful Teaching, Vibrant Learning!


What is vibrant? The dictionary offers synonyms: active, lively, high-spirited, brilliant, energetic, responsive, sensitive, vital, warm, determined, full.

Vibrant Learning. Imagine a room full of children, who balance behaviors and emotions that are active, lively, high-spirited, brilliant, energetic, responsive, sensitive, vital, warm, determined, full. Sounds pretty satisfying, doesn’t it?


What is play? We often associate the common dictionary definition: to engage in an activity for enjoyment.

For me as a kid it was, “I play soccer. I play percussion. I play music.” As a verb, this doing entails that we take part in, we are part of, we engage among. We belong with. Maybe by its very nature, at the heart of play we find a safe place to be seen, heard, and celebrated for the unique individuals that we are. 

Perhaps, when we play, we’re honoring and meeting fundamental emotional needs. Neuroscientists, psychologists, and behavior analysis specialists all agree that emotion drives attention, attention drives engagement, and engagement drives learning.

Playful teaching, Vibrant learning.

Playful teaching. This isn’t just a catchy phrase. It’s a principle-based teaching practice; a teaching habit.

At Conference, attendees were encouraged to notice the teacher habits that exemplify this playful attitude, to identify specific questions and responses SongWorks Educators use when teaching, and to reflect together on how these behaviors engage us as the learner.

Our time included engaging in professional development sessions, reconnecting with life-long friends, and growing the seeds of many new relationships.

Congratulations to our playful presenters! The Boston Conference offered a range of presentations, honoring music from a variety of languages and cultures. We sang English-language folk song games and learned traditional songs and dances that spanned the globe. We played with jazz, classical pieces, and pop songs! Regardless of the repertoire, our SongWorks principles and practices were evident in the movement, embodiment, symbol systems, student compositions, bridge notation, and literacy studies. Each session was full of inspiring and playful ways to be with learners.

Our 2023 Emerging Pioneers, Kylie Decker, Rachel Gunderson, and Jakki Moses shared reflections on how the SongWorks approach has directly impacted their teaching. We enjoyed hearing reflections from Dr. Alison Reynolds, our Visiting Scholar from Temple University, who offered insights from her 2023 Conference experience, the 2021 Virtual Conference, and a number of SongWorks SIPs she has attended.

Lisa Schoen, our 2023 Observation Teacher, taught an excited group of second grade children from Newton, Boston. The Observation Class, a 45-minute portion of our conference, is a fishbowl learning experience, in which a SongWorks Certified Educator models the SongWorks approach in a live demonstration with children. With grace, Lisa modeled the playfulness, responsiveness, and musicality of our beloved SongWorks techniques!

The 2023 Boston Conference Planning Team was proud to embrace many new initiatives for the SongWorks organization, including:

  • Creating a Conference Strategic Marketing Plan; highlights were press-release videos on social media, and SongWorks logo tablecloths for our registration and presentation tables
  • Offering SongWorks Conference T-shirts, the beautiful result of a special collaboration with local professional graphic designer, Cindy Estes, and Lisa Schoen and Alice Nordquist, who worked carefully to curate the content
  • Creating a two-day (Friday, Saturday) conference experience to support attendance for our membership who has expressed the challenges of previously taking off from work and home responsibilities Wednesday–Saturday
  • Hosting a Banquet Celebration at the conclusion of the conference, so that all attendees and presenters have the opportunity to fully participate
  • Moving the two-hour post-conference Membership Meeting from in-person on Saturday afternoon at the conclusion of conference, to a virtual event a few weeks post conference, so that more members may attend the annual meeting, and to preserve the energy of on-site conference attendees
  • Moving the three-hour pre-conference Board Meetings from in-person on Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, to a virtual event a few weeks prior to conference, to honor the time of on-site conference presenters and organizers
  • Hosting the first ever “2023 Welcome to Boston Gathering of SWEA Volunteers and Celebrating Emerging Pioneers” as an expression of gratitude for those who formally volunteer for our organization in one or more capacities (Board Members, Committee Members, Newsletter Team, Conference Presenters, Conference Team, to name a few). Thank you to Luca Franceschi of Iggy’s Bread (Boston, MA), for the donation of many freshly baked pastries, bagels, and loaves of bread, for the volunteer celebration gathering
  • Welcoming new-to-SongWorks observation students, through a new partnership with Caroline Frick, elementary Music Specialist from Newton Public Schools 

Inspiring presentations and new initiatives aside, the Boston Conference was logistically possible due to the time and care of many dedicated supporters. I want to extend a heart-felt thank you to a few specific roles that lead to such a successful conference experience:

  • Patricia Busa, of the Boston Marriott Newton, who served as our on-site Conference Event manager
  • Alice Nordquist, our SongWorks Registrar, who meticulously supports each conference attendee’s individual experience, including financial details and dietary needs, to name a few
  • Anna Langness, our SongWorks Treasurer, who supports tracking and balancing our Conference Budget
  • Nathan Daniels, our Website Coordinator, who created and curated the SongWorks Conference Landing Page, including vital aspects such as registration forms and conference handouts, among other details
  • Robert Flahive, who supported our on-site technology with equipment rented from Frank Miranda at A Better Resolution, Inc. (Charleston, MA)
  • Susan Winterbottom, who provided on-site instrument needs and presentation materials, by driving these items from her home state of Rhode Island
  • Debanhi Garcia, who served as our Hospitality Room Coordinator at the Newton Marriott
  • Nan Fitzpatrick and Vicky Suárez, who served as Presiders for the Conference, keeping our program running smoothly and on time, facilitating transitions, and introducing our presenters
  • Rachel Gunderson and Max Mellman, who hosted the entertainment portion of our Annual Conference Banquet
  • Rubi Lichauco, our On-Site Coordinator, who was instrumental not only  in the success of every detail during the Conference, but also in searching for hotel bids and securing our contract at the Boston Marriott Newton, a beautiful venue overlooking the Charles River. Rubi’s creativity and vision also led to many new initiatives this year, including (but not limited to) partnering with Newton Public Schools for an observation class, securing affordable A/V technology rental, inspiring the creation of marketing videos, partnering with Iggy’s Bread for the Volunteer Celebration, and facilitating the playful new Graphic Design by Cindy Estes, found on the conference T-shirts, the conference program, and on various SWEA promotional items.

As you can see, it takes a village! I am grateful for the Conference Planning Team, who met formally as a full team monthly, and informally as smaller teams weekly, to organize the 2023 Boston SongWorks Conference. 

I encourage you to reach out to the Conference Planning Team (Rubi Lichauco, Alice Nordquist, Aimee Newman, Rachel Gunderson, Lisa Schoen, and Anna Langness), to congratulate them on a job well done!  

It was my honor to serve as Conference Chair for the 2023 SongWorks Conference in Boston, where we experienced the magnetic energy that nourishes the vitality of our learning community. 

Exciting and empowering growth continues to occur in SongWorks, both individually and collectively. This is due to the dedication and hearts of its membership and the elected leaders who serve them. 

As an educator who has ‘grown up’ and continues to grow within the SongWorks community, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as your next President, and facilitate the forward momentum of the SongWorks Educators Association. 

Sincerely and enthusiastically, 

Jake E. Harkins
President, SongWorks Educators Association
2023 Conference Chair 

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