Mrs. Jo Kirk
Gone are the days when the Pied Piper arrived on foot, playing his magic pipe. This Pied Piper - aka "Mrs. Jo" Kirk - arrives in a plane she pilots herself, toting an auto-harp and a sack full of soft hammers, drums and scarves.
Kirk is the creator of WeJoySing, a children's music-education program well known to many Central Ohio families. Begun 25 years ago from Kirk's home then in Cambridge, WeJoySing is the product of a lifetime of learning about learning for the former Northwest Ohio farm girl.
"What our program is all about is based on the learning theories of Jean Piaget and Howard Gardner, who talked about the seven types of intelligence, the music-learning theory of Edwin Gordon, who said that we all have musical aptitude but it's not inherited, and how it's nurtured is key," explained Kirk, who is now based in Grove City.
But the biggest piece of underlying theory comes from the work of Zoltan Kodaly, whose revolutionary theories about music education inform much of what Kirk does with the thousands of students who have clapped, tapped and sung their way through her classes.
During recent classes at the Bright Horizons Capital City childcare center in Downtown Columbus, Kirk led infants and their caregivers, and then classes of toddlers and preschoolers, through 30-minute sessions built around five-minute bursts of musical activity.
Directions were given through sing-song rhymes and hand gestures, which the children mimicked.
As Kirk distributed drums to a class of 2- and 3-year-olds, she suggested that the teachers gently tap the children's backs, legs or arms to stimulate drumming.
"The research shows they will respond more accurately to the beat if you tap their body, not the drum," Kirk said.
Quickly the children, some barely able to stand on their own, were drumming steadily and evenly.
Perhaps more intriguing, though, came when it was time to stop drumming. Ever try to get an enthusiastic 2-year-old to stop anything and gotten a tantrum in response? Kirk doesn't when she ends the session with a sing-song "Drums away, drums away, time to put the drums away," and the children cheerfully stop drumming and trot up to her, to hand over their drums and move on to the next task.
"It can even change parenting styles," Kirk said of incorporating music into everyday life. She recounted the story of a mother who told her about the night her obstinate toddler wouldn't relinquish his storybook to go to bed, even marching away from her fiercely.
But as soon as the mother began singing the instruction to him, to put his book away and come away to bed, he happily did.
Kirk is herself the mother of two grown children and, for the last three years, has used her small airplane to maintain a commuter marriage with her husband Ken, who is a Methodist minister stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, as a U.S. Army Reserve command chaplain. They meet halfway in Pennsylvania every break they get in their duties.
"I'm 57," Kirk said proudly, "but I feel like I'm 45."
Kirk marvels often at the path she has traveled to get to where she is now. "Never did I think the Lord would have me become a business owner, fly a plane, become a public speaker all over the country," she said.
But perhaps she should credit the mantra she built her business around: "If you go for the joy, you get everything else."
For more information, visit Kirk's website at wejoysing.com