As an imaginative child who could frequently be found hanging out in nature, hugging trees, digging in the dirt, appreciating the wonders I discovered, I feel a kinship with Allison DeSalvo. Her appreciation of this pretty planet on which we live is inspiring and she has taken her creative talent as a music and children’s educator to craft a CD called It’s A Beautiful World which will be released in the fall. Perfectly timed for an auspicious event that is occurring this week, she has released a single from it called Turtle My Friend. She celebrates the merging of music and the love of nature through her life’s work called World of Song. She refers to it as “A creative arts educational program interweaving music, art, stories & kids yoga to nurture deep connections that inspire learning and living with love.”
Please share a bit of your background.
My first love was dance and at three my mom took me for lessons with Mrs. Hunter, also my first teacher. I went on to seriously study ballet at SF Ballet and modern dance through high school. As a teenager, I enrolled at ACT’s Young Conservatory to study theater and began formal voice training. Along the way, I fell in love with opera when a friend gave me a record of Maria Callas igniting my imagination. I moved to New York City at eighteen and received my BA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts launching my professional career as an actress and singer.
I was very fortunate to be cast in several groundbreaking music-theater productions, one based on the writings and drawings of Edward Gorey, and “Hamletmachine”, both of which became one of the Off-Off-Broadway productions that toured regionally and in Europe. A great highlight was performing in an Avant-guard staging of “Salome” by international director Robert Wilson at the renowned opera house La Scala in Milan, of which I had a premonition years earlier.
I was between gigs when a friend suggested teaching classes to kids at a recreational arts center and when I started I fell in love with it. It seemed to touch something very deep in me and I felt a calling. A year later I formed World of Song to unite my love of performing with my love of children and started doing family concerts at libraries, museums, festivals, and teaching my own programs in Brooklyn. It was around 2000 when it all came together and I began writing my own songs and stories.
Was music always a joy for you?
Yes! Growing up in SF I could be found singing up in a tree, dancing around the house, putting on a play for the neighborhood kids in our garage… water coloring at the beach. My mother always said she didn’t have to worry about me because she could hear me singing. These passions, for and to express myself through music, dance, drama, and art, formed early and have been with me all my life. To me, they have always been intimately connected to the joy of life. However, when I didn’t fit into the cliques at ballet school, it became hurtful. I had been an aspiring ballerina, like many little girls, but it was around 11 years old when I decided to step away from the pressure because it began to take away the joy. The idea of combining acting, singing, and dancing through theatre performance became a more appealing path. However, as a young adult living in NYC, the demands and uncertainties of a career did have their ups and downs, but the pure joy returned when I fell into using my skills to perform for and teach children. Around this time, I met and began studying meditation with an extraordinary healer, who was also an artist, exploring the relationship between the arts, meditation, healing, and life. She’s been my mentor and teacher to this day and has helped me to receive the music and the joy more fully and given me insight into the profound connections between creative development, expression, and the alignment of the body, mind, and heart.
On another note, I’ve come to appreciate, more recently, what ‘World of Song’ really means to me and why I gave my business that name. As a child I was experiencing the world around me through the sounds of nature, people’s voices and language, the noises in the street of the city, even colors. The expression of beauty and joy in it as music which I didn’t realize as a child was happening. The world was speaking and singing to me and so my natural response was singing and dancing back. It’s that pure joy, intrinsic in life and our natural world that I wish to share with children and help each child come to it in their own way through flowers, trees, mountains, waves and rivers… animals, even the look on a person’s face I experience it.
How does music touch people’s lives?
Music is often called the ‘universal language’ and it’s so true! Music is love and love is music. It stimulates our hearts and reaches every living thing regardless of origins or affiliations. Music resonates in our very cells vibrationally and energetically, impacting our emotions and biology in deep and profound ways. Music heals and can transform our lives communicating what we can’t say through words. Music is in the silence too. Research has proven what we all experience, its calming effect on the nervous system, the way it lights up the brain and can reclaim memories or lift the mood. Music was touching my life every day unconsciously as I was making up songs about anything, going to the piano, and improvising melodies. It certainly gave me an outlet to express my feelings and this is so essential.
As a children’s edu-tainer, (that’s what I call what you do) why are the arts so important?
The arts are so important – a gift that keeps on giving on so many levels. All the arts are like seeds, when planted early in life, nurtured, and cultivated they continue to sprout and grow to benefit children’s whole being in every way. The arts have the potential to bring joy to a person for a lifetime that is non-material. The arts help children to connect to their hearts, and emotions, through non-verbal communication – playing musical instruments, or dancing and singing, drawing and painting, writing poetry. Establishing a foundation for creative expression is fundamental to a child’s development – it’s how they learn and experience the world and is necessary for the early childhood classroom so every learning style can be met. Children need the freedom to be themselves and the arts can give them that opportunity – just like it did for me. It helps them to learn about themselves and can support their natural inclinations and talents. The arts allow children to share their deepest feelings and build a relationship with themselves independent of their parents and outside influences. The emphasis on the external is so prevalent in our modern culture. The arts provide children a gateway to go within and discover who they are. Good teachers can nurture them to be their own best friend.
What have you noticed about their reactions?
Children LOVE to explore their creativity. In my 30 years of working with children, I’ve seen that anything is possible when love is present and there is a sensitivity to being mindful of each moment and allowing the process to unfold. This is key to providing the space for the discovery to happen for the child – of the music, of the joy, the first connections to movement, or words, starting to sing and dance along, the crayon on the paper. It’s an amazing process when they start to put it all together because it’s all related. Rhythm is a big part of it too because it is with us from the beat of the mother’s heart in the womb, and after we’re born rhythm and sound are naturally how we communicate. In my music classes with babies and mothers, the infants rock their bodies along with the music. They feel it right away! It’s absolutely innate and instinctive through their vocal sounds – which communicate their joy or discomfort. I’ve tried to help parents to hear it that way – like a song and to sing back. This pre-verbal expression is a baby’s musical language. Also, when children engage with painting, for example, a silence comes, their mind is quieted. The arts are naturally meditative and they don’t realize it but they feel good and happy when they are being creative. It’s all connected, and part of the landscape of the brain, of music – of life.
I know you are a nature lover. How can we encourage children to love it too?
I spent so many days of my childhood digging in the sandbox, swinging at the park, or at the beach swimming, lying in the hot sand, hearing the seagulls, the slap of the waves, adults laughing, the sounds of Caribbean bongos being played wafting through the air…smells and tastes. Uninterrupted, I was free to engage fully in the whole sensory experience of nature and life. I was absorbing it all. There was no rush of a schedule to be somewhere else. In those days you had time to just ‘be’ outside and play wherever and I think that is the best way to encourage children to connect and love it too. Make time to get into your backyard, notice the bugs, flowers coming up, or the colors of the sunset, watch the stars come out at night, hug a tree, feel the cat’s fur, listen to a bird song. All this can crossover to the artistic expression which reinforces the experience of nature. Draw the tree, make up a song about the beach, go on a scavenger hunt in nature. As adults, we have put away the distractions and model for children stopping to notice and appreciate – to be mindful. Again, making connections to the moment, to the pleasure happening when we take time to really breathe and feel the goodness of nature and not take it for granted.
Talk about the turtles and their special season.
Sea turtle’s nesting season happens between May and October. The female will return to their nesting beach every two years or so. With her back flippers, she digs a hole in the sand and settles herself there. She will typically lay between 50-115 eggs over several hours. When the mother turtle is done she splashes sand to cover the nest. She’s very tired and drags herself down the shore to the ocean. The loggerhead turtle, the one I am raising money for through S.A.T., is the most common sea turtle found in the Florida Keys, and the rescuers say it’s 4 – 5 miles of swimming to get to food which is very difficult after birthing. The mother turtle does not return to the nest and the eggs are left to be incubated by the warm sands and hatch after 45-75 days. Kids like to learn that the new hatchling breaks open its egg with its egg tooth, which falls out about an hour after hatching and never grows back. Baby sea turtles have a short window of time to get from the nest to the ocean and there are many predators on land and in the water making for a low survival rate. One out of a hundred may survive. However, human impact is detrimental too, from entrapment in nets or grasses, people littering the nesting environment, and light pollution. I wrote, Turtle My Friend in 2012, after watching the documentary, The City Dark by Ian Cheney about ‘light pollution and the disappearance of the night sky’. The beauty of these ancient creatures was deeply moving to me. It was especially poignant to see how the just-hatched baby loggerhead turtles follow the light of the stars on the water to navigate from the shore to the ocean, and how artificial light causes disorientation impacting their survival. I hope children will feel connected to these resilient reptiles through the song and that their concern will crossover to other threatened animals around the world. I believe children can be empowered to be a part of the solution by learning ways to reduce human impact on earth from an early age with the support of their parents.
I know you have a magnificent project in the works for the fall. Please share about that.
I am very excited about it and the music relates to everything we’ve talked about. I did not know when I was growing up that what I was soaking up was going to come pouring out one day as songs for kids. It’s been an amazing journey from my album, Happiness Is All Around You to now. It’s A Beautiful World celebrates the music all around. It’s an invitation to skip along the sunny side of life with me and through the wonder of the changing seasons. It’s all original tunes written over many years and spanning a rich canvas of styles from swing to world music, from country to soul, and from madrigal rounds to Afro-Caribbean beats. The album explores the gifts that are experienced through friendship, family, and in our interactions with nature, and supports children’s understanding of their relationship between the outer, physical world and their inner, emotional lives. Each tune is like a little universe where music is felt in the dance of the leaf and fall of the rain, seen in the spin of a spider’s web, smelled in the baking pumpkin pie, heard in the wheels of the truck, the sounds of our ABCs or in the laughter of play outside in the snow. I had wonderful collaborators in my engineer, co-producer, and musician Derek Chafin, Philly jazz bassist, Dylan Taylor, master percussionist Todd Isler, and other family, friends, and kids who also contributed their voices. I hope for children to feel the continuity of love, that they are loved, that everything in our ‘beautiful world’ is connected, and they are connected to it, as we are to each other. It’s A Beautiful World illuminates these connections and sense of community.<
What would you like to see happen as a result of your work in the world?
Nurturing creativity in a loving spirit of learning and joy is my mission and teaching children they can play their part from an early age. We all have a role in making the world a more ‘beautiful’, caring, and kinder place in any way we can each day. I was recording this album all last year, and after a year coping with all the ramifications of the pandemic, the silver lining has been people slowing down to spend time with each other, to be out in nature again, grateful for the moments together and life itself. I wish for my music to celebrate and remind us of these simple gifts that life brings, and to reassure children that no matter what is going on there is the promise of peace in the beauty of our natural world and love in our connection with ourselves and each other. I also want this album to give back by supporting and partnering with several nonprofits and organizations seeking to provide educational outreach from urban farming to literacy programs and protecting endangered animals and the environment. Families can help their children to be helpers building awareness of humanity’s impact on the earth and expanding their view of the world. Proceeds from the album and specific songs will go directly to support their missions.
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Photo credit Andrew Oster