The Magic of Music: Elementary students share their gift with Kearney community

The Magic of Music: Elementary students share their gift with Kearney community

By Tyler Dahlgren

It was sometime around the holidays several years ago when a conversation Lisa Miller shared with one of her best friends, a nurse in Kearney, kick-started one of the more heartwarming traditions across Nebraska.

Joy is seemingly everywhere you look that time of year, ringing like a bell through every single television commercial and every other radio station on the dial. But on that day, her friend pointed something out that really made Miller think.

“She was talking about how the most depressing time of year for many elderly people can be Christmastime and the holiday season,” Miller, a music teacher at Park and Emerson Elementary Schools, remembers. “Then I got to thinking about my students, about how many of them are excited about receiving gifts and having presents under the tree. I also work at a school where some of the kids are impoverished and don’t always get a Christmas.”

Miller’s wheels were spinning. Then it clicked. The students in her music class had a gift. It was time to share it.

“Then I was thinking about how one of the things that brings us the most joy as humans is being able to help somebody else,” said Miller, who pitched the idea of caroling in Kearney’s assisted living facilities to her principals. “What a great opportunity for our kids to learn how to use a gift they don’t have to pay anything for to bless other people.”

The principals were game. The students were excited, too. The first couple of years were full of logistic tweaks and turns. Instead of going room to room, it was determined that having the students in a central location would allow for the most guests to watch them sing.

On December 15th, this year’s crop of Park and Emerson 4th and 5th-graders carried on the touching tradition, venturing out to four different facilities (two assisted-living and two nursing homes) to share what Miller calls one of their greatest gifts. 

“I feel like the act of giving and showing love towards others starts really young,” Miller said. “So the more opportunities we give them when they’re younger, the easier it becomes to put themselves out there and to be loving towards others as they get older.”

NPSA was initially scheduled to tag along that day, but the flu had other plans and delayed our visit a month. We popped into Miller’s music class at Park Elementary last Tuesday, and though the holidays are long gone, we still found plenty of magic.

“Mrs. Miller is always fun and encouraging,” said 5th-grader Pranav Vaghela, whose rendition of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby” was one the day’s highlights. “She knows the lyrics to every song and she helps you out when you miss something.”

Energy never wavers in Miller’s room, said 5th-grader Adria Wiens.

“Even if it’s just a boring thing, she makes it so fun,” Wiens said. “She’s really funny, too, and her class just makes you happy.”

And while observing Miller’s class in action is nothing short of a delight, they’re serious about music. The proof is in their performance.

“Mrs. Miller lets you be funny, but she also encourages you to get to work at the same time,” said Clara Wagner-Wiechman, another of Miller’s 5th-graders at Park. “You’re always learning something.”

Those lessons go deeper than music, too. Each November, the fifth-graders organize and perform a Veterans Day program. This year, the kids decorated Christmas cards and made ornaments for all of the residents and even encouraged them to sing along.

“We talk as a group about how important it is to bless others with our music and how sometimes people who live in homes like that aren’t able to leave and go watch performances, or maybe they don’t always have family around here,” Miller said. “So it’s a really great opportunity for everybody to connect as a community and to share gifts with one another. By the time we go, the kids are ecstatic.”

The residents enjoy the tradition just like the kids do. Some are even former teachers or principals, themselves. Often the kids are so excited that they’ll start singing on the bus ride over. Usually, they’re still singing on the bus ride home.

“Getting to see the older people have someone around the holidays, that is the best part,” Wiens said. “Because some people don’t have family around anymore.”

The students start practicing the carols a couple weeks before, and have them all mastered by the big day. In sharing the magic of music, they’re also learning all about the spirit of the season.

“We get to sing for them, and it might be the best part of their holiday season,” said Vaghela. “That’s awesome to think about.”

Miller said there’s a special bond between Kearney Public Schools and its community. She’s proud of her students for playing a part in deepening that connection, and hopes this experience is something they’ll remember for many holiday seasons to come.

“That connection with people who are elderly is so important and this is such a great way to bond and show empathy towards others,” Miller said. “I really hope it’s something they think about and carry with them throughout their lives.”

As for how they sounded?

“They totally crushed it,” Miller laughed. “They love it. They really get into it, and it’s quite amazing to hear their young little voices just sing their hearts out. It’s so heartfelt and genuine.”