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Kids explore cultural diversity through language and music in Norwich

Norwich — Banging on drums they made from plastic tubs and tape, children sat in a circle at the Otis Library on Saturday afternoon learning about language, music and the history of their city.

The library hosted a free bilingual music course for kids that focused on music written by one of the city’s own: composer Charles Frink. The young singers learned some of his songs, in English and in Spanish, in an interactive class organized by the late composer’s wife, Resu Espinosa-Frink.

Led by multilingual singers — one drew a chorus of wows from the little ones when she said she has sung in 43 different languages in her life — the children sang quietly along, learning new words and tunes.

For Norwich resident Michelle Hung and her children, 5-year-old Ming and 6-year-old Meilanni, the music class was a welcomed surprise. The family had come to the library to make holiday wreaths during another program Saturday morning, but were drawn upstairs by the sound of Frink’s songs.

For the Hungs, language and culture are already an important part of the curriculum at home and school. The children, who are multiracial — Black, white, Native American and Chinese — are fluent in English and Chinese, and are learning Spanish in school.

“It’s important to us because they are multiracial, I want them to be in tune with who they are and be empathetic to others, because not everyone is like us and it’s really important for them to understand that,” Hung said. “Through things like this we get to learn more about ourselves and connect with others and learn about our differences.”

Those lessons are exactly what Espinosa-Frink, coordinator of Bank Street Blues Bilingual, is hoping to teach through her husband’s songs.

Espinosa-Frink, who now lives in New London, said that she brought this program to the library in her husband’s hometown because she wanted children in Norwich to learn about how to communicate through music while exploring different languages and cultures. And she knew her husband’s music would be great vehicle for those lessons.

The group sang through many of Frink’s lyrics, including songs about being “gentle neighbors,” alternating between English and Spanish. Espinosa-Frink then engaged the young singers in conversations about how they felt about singing in a different language and learning new words. Their shy responses included excitement and a little apprehension about how hard it might be to tackle a foreign language.

Espinosa-Frink hopes to show children how much they can learn if they open their horizons to art and music in other languages, even if they may be hard to learn at first. Through classes like this, she said she hopes to create programs that are “aimed at bringing together, in a safe space, people who are concerned with the quality of human relationships whose experiences of life are not limited by the exclusive use of English.”

“We are open to different languages, cultures and points of view," she said. "We contribute artistic quality and friendship in the hope that this work takes root and continues to create a positive long-term change in the system.”

By breaking down the barrier of language, the musician and teacher aims to promote diversity and multiculturalism and help shape more diverse future generations. She also wants to show children and parents how much they can learn from music.

“You can use music to develop your emotions, your thought process, your relationships,” she said.

Cathleen Special, assistant director at Otis Library, said that Espinosa-Frink’s program was right in line with the library’s mission of promoting diversity.

“This program is so inclusive and (Espinosa-Frink) really wants to share and explore cultures, that’s definitely up our alley,” Special said. “Especially in this community, which is very diverse, we want to make sure everyone feels welcome.”

The workshop also included the hands-on activity in which each child was able to build and take home a drum. The workshop was funded by grants from the Connecticut Office of the Arts and CT Humanities with the help of the library and Global City Norwich, a program that encourages the revitalization of downtown Norwich through multicultural businesses, experiences and events.

t.hartz@theday.com 

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