Notes from the Nightingale

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

You might have noticed that the seasons are changing. Summer definitely said, "Bye," and autumn has truly arrived. These cooler months always remind me of Leo Lionni's beloved picture book Frederick.

You may remember Frederick, the little mouse who does not help his family as they gather nuts and seeds for the winter. While they are working, Frederick is busy gathering colors, collecting warm words, imagining bright sun rays and keeping lovely memories. When winter comes, the little mice curl in their nest, their seed supply almost used up, and ask Frederick to share what he has to offer. Frederick recites the beautiful colors and words and images that fascinate the other little mice who applaud his recitation and declare, "Why, Frederick, you are a poet!"

Even though I love the story, I would suggest that we don't need a designated poet like Frederick. We can all capture images, words and memories as we gather seeds and nuts for the cold months! We are all poets!

Not too long ago, people would gather in autumn and winter evenings with hot chocolate, talking and singing and telling stories. I'm sure that some folks still enjoy the warmth and fun of such times, but with TV, computers, smartphones, videos, video games and all our other high-tech toys, tools, items, it is a challenge just to hang together and talk face-to-face. Forget singing and storytelling!

My friend, a banjo musician, plays and sings with people of all ages. He noticed that many young children are not familiar with the old tried and true songs that we just assume are known and loved by all - Old MacDonald, Comin' Round the Mountain, You Are My Sunshine…Can we be assured that all of our programs for young children highlight musical, singing activities as part of every day?

At the other end of the age range, older people with severe memory challenges, suddenly perk up and even sing along when they hear old, familiar songs!

In Hans Christian Anderson's powerful story, The Emperor's Nightingale, the Emperor has a marvelous nightingale who sang beautifully. But when two tricky characters brought him a mechanical bird, covered with diamonds and jewels, the Emperor shooed away the nightingale and fell in love with the mechanical bird. So far, so good! But the Emperor fell seriously ill. Everyone tried to cure him, to heal him. Nothing worked. The mechanical bird was broken. The story reads that the Emperor was so sick that "death sat on the bed of the Emperor." Suddenly, from afar, the nightingale flew back to the palace, sat on the windowsill and began to sing. The nightingale's voice was so pure and beautiful, it healed the Emperor!

I think now more than ever we need the gifts of Frederick as the cold months arrive. We need to remember that the mechanical bird, amazing and dazzling as it was, could not heal the Emperor.

In the midst of this phenomenally advanced technological time, let's remember the power of song, poetry, stories and talking together through all the seasons. Let's remember the healing song of the nightingale.

-"Mamaloshen" is the Yiddish term for "the mother tongue" and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.