Why we welcome children to join us at Newcomer Choir
At a recent rehearsal for the Halifax Newcomer Choir, overlapping the sounds of newcomers trying to enunciate the words to a Sarah Quartel song, were the small shrieks and running feet of children.
When I started the Halifax Newcomer Choir, children were welcome to come, and continue to be welcomed today.
One of the major barriers to women accessing English classes – particularly free classes, funded by the government, is the lack of child care spaces associated with the class.
Without a place for their child (or children) to go during English class, women cannot attend. They have to stay home. In this way, mothers new to Canada miss out on months – if not years – of English language learning opportunities. They must wait for their children to be old enough to attend public school.
Newcomer Choir was designed to combat this problem. We do not just allow, but encourage, parents to bring their children if it helped the adults to attend.
This is not always easy. A few weeks ago, our group was moved to a different, smaller room for our rehearsal. The children desperately wanted to escape. This week, the children were initially keen to participate, but later spent the rehearsal chasing each other around the circle.
Some parents try to maintain a degree of discipline. Others are focused on their own language learning and leave their children to run free. I don’t mind either way.
If we are going to say we are a welcoming space for women, for families, and for children, then that is what we must be.
I have sung in many adult choirs where rehearsals lack laughter, the music is old-fashioned, and the goal is to work hard. While we produce beautiful music, there can be a lack of joy.
At choir on Tuesday, there is no shortage of joy or laughter. I know for some of the learners it must be frustrating to have laughing (or sometimes crying) children interrupt their learning. But at other times, the children’s antics create humorous moments. We have started a children’s chorus, and many of the little singers are now capable musicians- in their second language.
And the possible frustration of having children making noise or being distracting is nothing compared to the frustration of having to sit at home, and delay your learning or participation in Canadian society, because child care does not exist.
This is just one small step we can take that does none of us any harm, but allows the choir to be a welcoming space for women, mothers, and caregivers.