Lean on Me

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I’m a music teacher.

I teach first and second grade general music.  Each year I plan and prepare a 30 minute musical program of songs (usually with choreography and various props) for my students to perform for the rest of the school and for their parents, family and friends.

I started thinking about what I wanted to do for this year’s program last summer.  I considered several ideas.  One that I liked a lot was to have a rainbow theme for the songs.  Each song would represent a color of the rainbow.  For instance, Purple might be “Flying Purple People Eater” and Green could be “It isn’t easy being green.”

I liked the idea.  I had trouble coming up with a good idea for “orange” though.

While I thought about various ideas, I kept having the song “What the World Needs Now” running through my head.  In light of all the tragedies of the last year and considering the course our national government is on, I began to think of a different type of theme for our program.

What if we sang songs about what the world needs now?  Love, obviously, according to the song — but what else does the world need?

Song ideas poured out of my mind.

I remember songs I learned as a young child. I firmly believe lyrics of songs can be something to hold onto in times of trouble.
Words have power.
Our minds have power.
I want to fill my students young minds with power and hope.
With love and dreams.
I want to arm them with songs that will feed their souls, and not with fluff to fill the time in a music program.

I considered many options.  I distilled my ideas down to a list of 7 songs.

I chose songs about family, community, love, dreams, tenacity, peace, friendship, healing, and music.

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One of the songs I chose was Lean On Me. I was concerned about not having enough time for the students to learn all the lyrics.  I came up with what I thought was a great idea — to have one of the school custodians sing the verses as a solo.  The students would then only need to learn the chorus and bridge sections.3ell, the night of the recital came.  When the time came up, he was nowhere to be seen.
I asked if anyone had seen him.  No one had.

I said, “Oh well, we’ll skip that song and come back to it when he arrives.”

In my mind, I was trying to think of who could sing the solo verses.  I’m a music teacher and of course I could do it.  I’m not a solo singer, though.  Never have been.  I’d much rather have my back to the audience (directing a choir) or to my side (playing the piano).

A song or two later a teacher came up to be between songs and whispered, “We’re going to sing it.  We’ve got you covered.”

Ah!  What a perfect solution.  I was filled with gratitude at their thoughtfulness, resourcefulness and … bravery.

We sang our songs.  We came to the end of the last song.  I grabbed the microphone and announced that we had a solution to our missing soloist issue.  The teachers (12 of them, including student teachers) along with the principal and one of our assistant principals gathered on the gym floor in front of the children and sat down in a semi-circle.

Started the music: Lean on Me, the Bill Withers version.  We hummed the introduction.  Then the teachers began to sing the verse.  Everyone was smiling.  The children came in with the chorus:

Lean on me when you’re not strong.
I’ll be your friend.
I’ll help you carry on —
For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.

Call on me, brother, if you need a hand.
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’d understand.
We all need somebody to lean on.

During the next verse I encouraged the audience to join in singing the verses by saying the words as they would need to sing them. Many people joined in the singing.

It really was a wonderful ending to our program.  The song ended up being the closer for the concert, and it was absolutely perfect.

What the world needs now is love, yes, but also friends and community and people who are willing to lend a hand.

Singing teachers
These are the teachers. They are singing.
teachers sang
I love the part when all the teachers sang for Mr. Ron at the concert.

 

In the morning I found this whole school email from our principal in my inbox:

Dear Staff,

I can’t let your day begin without sharing something that was pretty amazing about last night’s 1st and 2nd grade concert. Our scheduled guest soloist couldn’t make it so we all decided to sing! Our students and their families will likely never forget the day the 1st and 2nd grade teachers along with their principal and assistant principal sang with them, Lean on Me, directed by their music teacher. Thank you to the teachers who were courageous and willing to take on my crazy idea! The kids and the families were amazed and the families decided to sing along with us. I am so proud of our school family! Have an awesome day!!!

It takes a village and I’m so thankful my village is full of wonderful, caring colleagues.

This was my reply:

Hello all,
Thank you sharing our magical moment, Mrs. Smith.
It was a wonderful experience and I’m honored to be surrounded by such caring and resourceful colleagues.  Thank you to all who sang the verses for us!!
After the plan was hatched, one of the teachers whispered to me, “We’re going to sing it.  We’ve got you covered.”
It takes a village, and I’m thankful to be in this village together.​
Be what the worlds needs today!
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Curious minds might want to know the song titles I chose:

Proud By Teresa Jennings

Reaching for a brass ring is symbolic of taking hold of an opportunity or winning a great prize.

We Know The Way By Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina from “Moana”
We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain.

 

What the World Needs Now is Love By Hal David and Burt Bacharach

Is love, sweet love:  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Lean On Me By Bill Withers

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend — I’ll help you carry on
We all need somebody to lean on.

Peaceful By Teresa Jennings

Think of the world without any war. Think of the world at peace.

Young and Positive By Nitanju Bolade Casel, of Sweet Honey In The Rock from the album “I Got Shoes”

My eyes are on the prize and they will stay that way.

Kusimama By Jim Papoulis

Sung in Swahili:
Mimi Kusimama — I stand tall
Na upendo — with love
Na tamani — with hope
Watoto ni karibu dunia –children are closer to the earth

 

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