Friday, July 27 was a special day for me as a new employee at the Library of Congress. I had the wonderful opportunity to represent the Music Division in an outreach initiative, Story Time for Young Readers. Story Time is a program at the Young Readers Center every Friday at 10:30am. Once a month, March through August, Story Time for Young Readers teams up with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to present programs especially for children five and younger. These livestreamed events take place in the Jefferson Building’s Gertrude Clarke Whittall Pavilion. Regular weekly Story Time takes place in the Young Readers Center. All of these events are free to the public!
The book I read for Story Time was the classic The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper and illustrated by Loren Long. The book teaches important lessons to children – and provides great reminders for adults! – about compassion, perseverance in the face of adversity, and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to achieve what seems impossible.
When I learned that the book scheduled for my Story Time was The Little Engine That Could, the flutist in me got quite excited. After all, what do you think of with trains? All the sounds! The onomatopoeia is endless: choo-choo, toot-toot, puff-puff, chugga-chugga. And, those are all sounds that flutists who use “extended techniques” can make. Extended techniques are used to create sounds outside of the traditional realm of how instruments function, and vastly expand the color palate. But, extended techniques sometimes get a bad rap for being “not pretty.” Well, let this contemporary music performer tell you that “pretty” is subjective and limiting!
In my past experiences as a music educator, I have learned that children are quite receptive to hearing extended techniques. To them, the weirder the better. So, I knew that my captive audience of children five and younger at Story Time would love it if I brought the story to life by playing the train sounds on my flute. Was I right! The excited readers were most quiet was when I made “chuh-chuh” sounds, played multi-phonics for “choo-choo,” and beat a triangle. To ensure that the children stayed engaged with listening skills, I asked them to power the train wheels with a hand motion every time they heard the flute go “chuh-chuh.”
Because The Little Engine That Could may be a bit long for the youngest audience members, I played a brief excerpt of Charles Zeuner’s Railroad Waltz from 1835. The piece is for piano, so I played the right hand melody unaccompanied. To keep things quick and get back to reading, I only played the A-section. After the book, the kids sang “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” with our fearless volunteer leader Caroline while I played the melody along with them.
The children looked and sounded like they had a lot of fun. I did, too! Sharing music with as wide an audience as possible, either as a performer or librarian, is what brings me the most joy. Not to mention that my flute got to hang out in the Whittall Pavilion among the ranks of flutes on display from the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection!
I hope you enjoy watching and sharing this video with little ones special to you. Toot-toot!