As a child, I distinctly remember the gestalt of singing in a choir, being on stage with my friends and making new friends who share, experience, and exchange ideas, energy and the love of Jewish texts and music. I’m so proud to know that I come from people who have always taken an active part in creating beautiful family moments in many artistic genres. Looking back, I attribute many of my abilities to connect with people, to think creatively and to have great compassion for my fellow man to the skills I acquired as a young child playing my instrument and singing and learning to listen to my friends as they expressed their own creativity next to me.
Engaging in the arts strengthens not only children’s emotional intelligence, but also their sense of cultural identity. Whether playing an instrument, singing, dancing or acting, research shows that children who make music are more empathetic, optimistic, and less likely to act out when challenged. Science has shown that creating music and art promotes neural connectivity in the brain. It cultivates the important life skill of being able to listen to others in a collaborative process while maintaining one’s own uniqueness.
Learning about iconic Jewish composers, playwrights, authors and producers also enriches one’s Jewish experience and supports a strong Jewish identity. Most children are unaware that West Side Story, An American in Paris, Fiddler on the Roof and The Wizard of Oz were composed by Jewish Americans who helped develop the essence of musical theater.
Furthermore, kids who play piano using each hand and foot to perform a different task at the same time are more likely to experience success in school and in their social lives, and the same is true for adults. Musicians have been studied by neurologists such as Anita Collins who observed that different, large areas in the brain light up simultaneously when they play an instrument or sing. The stimulus created by engaging in artistic creativity is unlike any other and provides platforms for other forms of creativity.
We live in an environment that is very tech-oriented, almost single-tracked, and many of us forget to offer our kids an opportunity to fiercely experiment in the arts and open a door to a world that may support both their mental wellness and their overall well-being in the world. Great lifelong friendships are formed when the creative process is shared between people. In art, many times we feel safe to be vulnerable in front of our peers, leading to emotional resiliency.
At the OFJCC School for the Performing Arts, we focus on teaching children not only the craft of music, but their heritage in it. We connect the dots for children and show them that they belong to a dynasty of artists who bravely made political comments, statements on the topic of human rights through writing, acting, singing and composing and by doing so, reached a vast audience who came for the fun and stayed for the story.
The OFJCC is a safe space for the community to play instruments, act, sing, write and be creative in ways that are not possible in many of our lives today. As an adult, being able to sit at the piano or pick up the guitar and play for yourself or for your friends is unlike any other experience. I encourage you to explore creativity beyond technology. Consider this a personal invitation to discover a whole realm of expression that you and your family can share together for generations to come.