Phoebe Legere: Bringing Music & Art to At-Risk Children
Phoebe Legere on the importance of traditional instruments in teaching kids about music.
Phoebe Legere is an internationally recognized musician, composer, author, and music educator. She is known for her hit songs, as well as her critically acclaimed full-length musicals, operas, and Pulitzer-nominated musical poem, “The Waterclown.”
Juilliard-trained Phoebe Legere has collaborated with some of the most creative personalities of modern times: she has performed with David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, and Billy Joel. She was a featured soloist at Boston Symphony Hall and Lincoln Center, and she had a triumphant debut at Carnegie Hall. Phoebe Legere has been the subject of feature stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harpers Bazaar, NPR, ABC, NBC, A & E, HBO, and CBS.
Maestro Legere is also an award-winning folk-blues pianist, a champion accordion player, a virtuoso on many Native American instruments and a down-home blues guitar player. NPR called Phoebe Legere “An American Original.”
In 2010, Phoebe Legere had a dream to help restore Arts Education curriculum to underserved children in low-income communities. After the economic collapse of 2008-09, eighty percent of school districts nationwide had their budgets cut. In 2010, a program called Common Core mandated guidelines to improve a students’ readiness for college and the workforce. Only STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) would receive the majority of budgetary resources.
“Arts Education programs were the first to go. Approximately eighty-five percent of public schools in New York City have eliminated or drastically reduced art and music programs,” says Phoebe Legere. “But the Arts are not electives. They are essential.”
Today, as Founder and Executive Director of the Foundation for New American Art, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit corporation, Phoebe is the guiding light for music and art afterschool programs all over the country. Her mission is to bring art and music to the children of low-income, at-risk, underserved communities.
When you hear the sound of a fiddle, a cello, a wooden flute or a traditional accordion, you are hearing the soul of a tree. The tree is singing to you from another dimension.
Legere provides programs for gifted low-income children in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, is the founder of the Gifted Children’s Festival in Maine, and is launching the Lower East Side Children’s Choir for 2019.
A descendent of the Abenaki tribe in Maine and the Acadians of French-Canada, Phoebe is an authentic tradition keeper and is known to thousands of children by her Native American name: Phoebe Songbundle. She is a dynamic performer on seven instruments: guitar, accordion, piano, Native American flute, Buffalo drum, Spoons, Cello, and Cavaquino. She is also a music teacher who follows the ancient tradition of teaching music as a spiritual discipline.
We caught up with Phoebe to discuss a topic about which she is passionate: the importance of teaching children using traditional, instruments.
“Let’s start with a piece of wood. When you hear the sound of a fiddle, a cello, a wooden flute or a traditional accordion, you are hearing the soul of a tree. The tree is singing to you from another dimension.
“That’s one of the reasons that music can reach right down into your soul and blow you away. Machines make most of the music we hear on the radio. It sounds like music,superficially, but it’s really a trick. It’s like a fast-food meal. It tastes okay at first, but is it really nourishing? Is it really making you stronger, healthier, and happier?
“Traditional instruments are made from real, sustainable organic materials from Mother Earth,” says Phoebe.
“I love to teach children to play Native American Cedar flute by encouraging them to imitate the sounds of nature! I say:’Listen to the birds, the wind, the frogs, the crickets, the rain, and the intricate orchestra of nature.’ A wooden instrument represents an organic return to the deepest sources of nature and creation.
“Traditional songs carry within them the seeds of survival, harmony and collective joy,” she says.
“Shared rhythm has been shown to regulate the deepest process of the human body, from blood flow to heartbeat, to the spin of the electrons around each atom of the human brain! This is the ‘magic’ of music.
“Traditional music helps children to construct a healthy social identity in a safe space where they can express their deepest feelings.
“Music gives children an awareness of shape and structure, breathing and tone. Music teaches the young how to project, how to harmonize, how to follow a leader, and how to be a leader. Most importantly, music teaches children how to listen to their heart.”
Phoebe’s Five Points to Inspire A Child
A baby in the womb loves music. His or her first musical experience is the sound of mother’s heartbeat. The swell and pulse of mother’s blood is like a symphony. Babies invent their own choreography in the womb, stretching, dancing, twisting, and listening to that most beautiful sound: the sound of mother’s voice. Sing to your child! Listen to music together, share it, and let it fill your souls with shared beauty and harmony.
The path to finding the perfect instrument can be a magical experience for you and your child. Go to music stores! Concerts! Name the instruments! Embrace beautiful sounds!
Find a teacher who is fun, optimistic, and loves children.
Young children have an astonishing ability to make up songs. Most children lose this gift after a few years in school. Encourage your child’s Imagination! At the Foundation we believe that every child is born a genius. Very few remain that way past childhood without being nurtured and allowed to dream.
Pick up a drum or a percussion instrument and play along with your child. Dance with your child. Sing with your child. Music is a potent force for intergenerational harmony. That is the lesson we learn from traditional music. Parents, children and grandchildren should sing and dance together. When we make music together it always sounds awesome.
If you suspect your child is brilliant and gifted contact Phoebe at firstname.lastname@example.org we’ll help you find a program in your area that will nurture your young artist. Phoebe gives 100 percent of the proceeds from her performances to this Foundation.