Michael Mauldin's Writings:


About Children:


[This excerpt is from a workshop entitled "The Intelligent Children's Choir" presented by Michael Mauldin and the Albuquerque Boy Choir in March, 1998 at the national convention of the Music Teachers National Association in Los Angeles.]

The thrill for all of us teachers who truly love children doesn't come from trying to posses them or to claim them as our creations, but from helping them have more POWER--the power of ideas--ideas that can keep the wind in their sails while giving them a good rudder.  Let me use an old analogy--the one about the sailing vessel being of no use without a rudder.  It's true, of course, and I've met students who will not accomplish much with their music because they don't have enough self-discipline to develop their talents.  But the converse of the old analogy is also true:  a perfectly good sailing vessel, even with a good rudder, is of little use when becalmed, when there is no force to move it through the water.

How can we steer and inspire our students at the same time?  Even though we probably go back and forth, we CAN do both.  The two key words are INVOLVEMENT and BALANCE.

INVOLVEMENT.  In the name of protecting our children, we Americans have segregated them (actually abandoned them) to an artificial youth culture, devoid of meaningful involvement with adults.  But the best teachers I know are willing--even in the face of ignorance and intolerance--to show their affection for and fascination with children.  Thank God for the power of that mentoring gene.   For the sake of future generations, I hope that many of the children with whom we work will themselves love kids well enough to be involved with them--not just to "teach" them.

As you will see this afternoon--and tonight, if you attend the concert--I try to involve these boys directly in the preparation and performance of the music--including conducting pieces in concerts.   For the adult involvement to be meaningful it should let your students share in the reward AND the risk of accomplishment.  As we go through a mini-rehearsal in a few minutes, and as I ask the boys questions or try to stimulate their imaginations about the esthetics or structure of the music, I will invite their HONEST responses--and in their own words, though undoubtedly some of the responses will be directly out of our musicianship competency book. 

BALANCE.  The second key word, balance, is difficult to achieve, but must be our constant companion when we are personally involved with children.  It is the balance of strictness with tenderness, information with imagination, leading with being led.

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A Letter to Albuquerque Boy Choir Parents, August, 1998

Dear Parents:

Thanks, in advance, for sharing your sons with us this year!  Why a boy choir?  In our politically-correct times, I have been asked that by those who feel that a boy choir is a sexist throwback.  Being a composer, I've been in love with beautiful sounds since I was little, and I've been fortunate to have heard [almost] every thing I've written.  Out of all the sounds I have used, my absolute favorite is a well-trained boy choir.  When it is done well, there is a purity and energy that boy choirs seem to be able to make better than anyone else.  Jerome Wright, founder of the Northwest Boy Choir, sums it up:  "The sound of choirboys is a fleeting, hauntingly beautiful thing, precious because of its unique quality, perhaps doubly so because of the short time such a voice is among us."

There is also a need for boys to have something in common at which they can excel--in addition to the usual avenues of sports, scouts, etc.  At their age--and given our society's tendency to rush them into manhood--it is healthy for them to do something together that is communicative and sensitive, and of which they can be proud, including the ancient boychoir tradition itself.

For a young maturing boy to do his job and know that it has been done to the best of his ability gives an immeasurable sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Our goal is to help boys make music, and magic, today--cherishing and sharing the best of their boyhood--and to help them grow into strong and sensitive men for tomorrow, as they see that successes become reality through hard work, patience and awareness of their environment.  They learn that the pursuit of excellence really can be a worthwhile endeavor.  We tell them, "Don't wait to be a great man; be a great boy."

A boy choir is a great way to bring some balance and power into a boy's life--and for him to give back something wonderful to his family, his city, even complete strangers.  Let me close with two paragraphs I wrote at the end of my first year, and which I re-read at each Spring Concert:

Yes, I like boys.  I like the way they walk, talk and think.  But above all, I like the way they sound when they sing.  And, yes, I like to hug them and hold them.  But what I'm really after is their hearts.  I want to see them give the best part of themselves to making magic for others.

It isn't easy to win the heart of a boy.  And some will say that it isn't a prize worth having--that it is shallow, fickle, and selfish.  It is a bit self-occupied, but not because it wants only for itself.  It senses that when it gives, it will give unconditionally, so it studies the worthiness of the recipients of its love first.  But once the commitment is made--whether to persons or principles--it seems to be a lifelong allegiance.

So, no, it isn't easy to win the heart of a boy, but what a priceless thing it is.

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[Mauldin contributed this quote beneath his bio on the "Boychoir Past, Present and Future" web page, devoted to boy choirs through the world (http://www.boychoirs.org)]

"There is nothing wrong with loving our boys, and letting them and the whole world see that we do.  It is not enough to love the subject we teach or the sound our choirs make.  It is easy to be curious and controlling.  But it takes effort to be compassionate, to avoid disconnection.  To teach the whole child, we should love him, and that is a sacred act."

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by Michael Mauldin
(c) 1999 M Mauldin

[Mauldin made available these excerpts from his essay, "Love Without a Name" to the parents and audience at the final Albuquerque Boy Choir concert under his leadership as Musical Director in 1999. He directed the intermediate choir for three more years to help with the transtition.]

There is nothing more beautiful than childhood reverence.  Though it may seem to be grounded in weakness and dependency, a child's reverence comes from a position of strength.  He may be small, weak and inexperienced by comparison to the adults around him, but he "knows" something--something that they may have forgotten, since they may not have been able to explain it themselves, and since they didn't seem to need to understand it in order to reach adulthood, or so it seemed.

What the child "knows"--sometimes without knowing that he knows it--is that good and evil, light and dark, order and chaos must all flow through our existence.  Though we revere and cherish the "good", and avoid and condemn the "evil", our definitions of good and bad, and even our codes of conduct, are not central.  What is central is the unique way in which we humans balance our uses of power--the power to affect our environment--in such a way as to respect the needs of others. 

Knowing that each generation must find its own way, we nonetheless long to communicate to children that they are inherently beautiful and powerful.  We want them to "know that they know", so that they can keep their spirits alive as adults.  If, at the height of their own powers, they also nurture children--loving them as fully-human beings, not untouchable symbols of purity and innocence--then maybe our society will evolve away from hurtful intergenerational relationships.

We mentors not only want them to "know that they know", we need to.  It is in our genes, and we, like the parents that we also may be, have a necessary place in the scheme of things.  That longing--to communicate the need to cherish and share inherent beauty and power--is something that children can detect in adults, or even in other children or young people.  It is as if that inexplicable spiritual depth of theirs comes with a built-in sensor, telling them who will nurture their spirit and who will hurt it.

My own experience with boys--my sons, my piano students, members of the boy choir--has always been a labor of much well-directed love.  The boys seemed relieved to find that it was acceptable--even admirable--to share their feelings--through performance for an audience, or just by talking with an adult who enjoyed them as boys--not "little men".  The sparkle in the eye, the long hug, the sharing of themselves with the audience, with me and with each other--has made my heart "too big for my body." 

The delight that children and adults find in each other is not perverse, abusive, nor a threat to civilization--but rather a source of its renewal.  Our purpose in life is not just to perpetuate our species and our beliefs.  It is also to try to make the journey a bit less lonely for those who follow us, and to refresh our souls (and theirs) with shared power.

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upon his retirement and his being named Director Emeritus of the
Albuquerque Boy Choir, May, 2002

My composing career, and my father's health, make this my last season with the boy choir.  I'll miss the boys a lot, so I hope some of them will take private voice or piano lessons with me next year, or let me help them with their theory competencies.  Out of all the things I've done in music, or with children, my thirteen years with the ABC have been the most challenging and the most rewarding of my life.  I'll always be an avid supporter of the choir and what it stands for.

My experience with boys--my sons, private students, and members of the choir--has been a labor of well-directed love.  The boys I've taught seemed relieved to find that it was acceptable--even admirable--to share their feelings--through performance for an audience, or just by talking with an adult who enjoyed them as boys--not "little men".  The sparkle in the eye, the long hug, the sharing of themselves with the audience, with me and with each other--has made my heart "too big for my body." 

The delight that children and adults find in each other is not perverse, abusive, nor a threat to civilization--but rather a source of its renewal.  Our purpose in life is not just to perpetuate our species and our beliefs.  It is also to make the journey less lonely for those who follow, and to refresh their souls (and ours) with shared power.

Parents, if I don't see your son next year for lessons, I hope I have a chance before summer break to thank you for sharing him with us.  Childhood is more than a means to an end--the "caterpillar before the butterfly".  That's the time in the womb.  From birth on, we fly.   If we let children fly with us, we may help them, but we also are helped by rediscovering the sense they have that somehow they will have enough energy.  Their spirit is more than the will to survive, more than knowing right from wrong.  It's an inspired willingness, even in diverse or difficult situations, to enjoy and share the magic and beauty that's around them.

If we helped your son cherish and give some of the best of his boyhood, then our efforts were worthwhile.  And, yes, his having done so will probably help him be a healthier, happier man.  To a society that is afraid to nurture its sons--where a man is more suspect for hugging a boy than for spanking or belittling him--I say defiantly, I am proud to have loved and nurtured boys.

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Related Reading:

Currie, Elliott. "The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence", New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2004.

Glazer, Steven, editor. "The Heart of Learning: Spirituality in Education", New York, Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999 (Contributors include Huston Smith, Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Parker J Palmer, The Dalai Lama, Bell Hooks, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi).

Heins, Marjorie. "Not In Front of the Children: 'Indecency,' Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth", New York, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

Levine, Judith. "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex", Minneapolis, The University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Louv, Richard. "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder", New York, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006.

Parker, Palmer J. "The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life", San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998,

Pollack, Ph.D., William. "Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood", New York, An Owl Book, Henry Holt and Co., 1999.


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Copyright © 2009 Michael Mauldin
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