Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Sukey Molloy of PlayMove&Sing Is Helping To Change…

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Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Sukey Molloy of PlayMove&Sing Is Helping To Change Our World

Music can be an invitation to experience being part of something greater than oneself, part of the deeper feelings that otherwise may not appear. And, of course there is one very special music that we need to search for in order to hear, and that is the music of silence, particularly when shared together with another.

As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sukey Molloy of PlayMove&Sing Inc.

Trained as a professional modern dancer in New York City, beloved children’s author, storyteller, educator, and musician Sukey Molloy performed and toured as a member of the Solomon’s Company Dance and went on to study developmental movement and Kidnastics with former Olympian, Garland O’Quinn, Ph.D., and infant development with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. Her work in “movement skill development through guided play” led Sukey to design and teach music and movement programs for nursery schools, after-school programs, and elementary schools, and, in 2005, to launch her own PlayMove&Sing programs of classes and teacher training workshops. By 2006, Sukey had formed her Circle Song Band (later known as Sukey Molloy & Friends), with which she performed the “Sukey Molloy (Circle Song) Show,” charming young audiences with programs filled with musical storytelling, stuffed felt characters, and fun, interactive songs. She has released five award-winning children’s albums, two DVDs, and several video series.

Thank you so much for joining us on this interview series. Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?

Sure! I studied dance and music as a child and in my 20’s I was fortunate enough to join a professional modern dance company in NYC. It was a very exciting and demanding time in my life and when my body finally told me it was time to stop, I knew I wanted to work with children. But what would I do? I was interested in exploring new and creative ways of bringing movement and music to children ages birth to five so… I studied Developmental Movement with former Olympian, Dr. Garland O’Quinn, Infant Development with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen at the School of Body Mind Centering, Infant Massage with Vimala McClure, and completed my degree in Education and the Performing Arts at SUNY. All of this led me to a new and thrilling performing arts career with my own Sukey Molloy & Friends! band, the creation of my company, PlayMove&Sing Inc., and the development of music and movement play programs for children birth to 5, their parents and teachers. I followed a set of principles that showed me how, when children learn new skills, it gives them the feeling of “I can!” And I discovered that early learning happens best when the motivation comes from ‘within’.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, yes, something very funny did happen to me and there were lots of people around to see it! I was in the early stages of presenting my movement play programs and during a parent/child class I brought out a large bottle of bubbles. The moment I blew the first bubble all the children ran toward me to catch and pop them. And during that conundrum one little boy grabbed my pants to get closer to the bottle of bubbles and my pants came right down in his little hand! All the parents laughed of course, as did I, but I learned never to wear an elastic waist band in class again! I also learned that before the bubble segment, to begin with a ‘kinesthetic preview’ by practicing the motion of popping pretend bubbles with just one finger (the pointer) helping focus the attention and preparing for what was to come.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

The first thing is to know whether you have a natural affinity for children, and the ability to organize large and small groups of children in motion. I often see teachers and adults spending huge amounts of energy trying to get children to sit down, be quiet and stay still. The developing brain needs lots of proprioceptive information which comes directly from movement. It’s important to give children permission to move and sing and express themselves with their bodies without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. One needs to create a ‘yes’ environment, not a ‘no’ environment and this takes some time to learn. The curriculum is never as important and how it’s shared.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Yes, one person who remains the bedrock of all my work with children is Mr. Rogers. I am not a big fan of television viewing for children under age 5 because it is detrimental to the growth of synapses in the developing brain. But I did allow my two sons to watch Mr. Rogers and when I created my Sukey’s Circle! Video series, I made sure to emulate the way Mr. Rogers edited his shows, with long periods of running time and few edits. There was such a purity to his nature in the way he appeared in front of children, so honest and sincere. I’ve tried all these years to open my heart in front of children when I’m performing or teaching, to be a vessel for their enthusiasm and an anchor for their search to be seen, acknowledged and loved.

And I have a story to share about Fred Rogers. My husband and I took our firstborn son James to Colonial Willilamsburg when he was just 4. He loved to pretend he was a colonial soldier and liked to dress up with his three corned hat, neck scarf and wooden rifle. There was an event that day where children could sign up for the military(!) and march together through the streets of the town with the Colonel. As the group began to disperse, we noticed a horse drawn carriage up ahead with a full camera crew in front. The carriage was about to cross the street and we stopped to let them by. But at that moment, we heard our son James call out, Mr. Rogers! And off he went, running toward the carriage in the distance. Of course, we took off running after him and to our amazement, Mr. Rogers saw this little boy running toward the carriage and asked the driver to stop. Mr. Rogers opened his arms as our little James ran up the three steps into the carriage and hopped into his lap. Mr. Rogers asked him his name and they spoke for several minutes before Mr. Rogers told James it was time to continue on his way. It all happened in the most natural way and Mr. Rogers turned out to be the special man we always thought he was.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?

The focus of my work has always been to bring a quality of acceptance, interaction, and play-based learning to children ages birth to 5. I am never satisfied until every child (and adult) in the room is fully engaged in the movement activity, song, story or felt art that we’re involved in together. And I feel strongly that whatever activity is offered, each child is given time and space to enter that activity at his/her/their own pace. Children are often made to try an activity before they’ve had a chance to find their own natural, genuine interest. I often model an activity before offering it and allow the children to try in their own way before suggesting new ways that they might like to learn. As the presenter, I need to become an honest magnet for their attention. I have found this approach an overwhelming success, including with children who have learning challenges and wish to be part of a larger experience. By bringing my teaching and performing to day care centers, nursery schools, public schools, libraries, theaters, and workshops, I have had the enormous privilege of interacting with children and families of all colors and backgrounds and seeing the joy and learning that play, movement, song and storytelling can bring to the faces of all who participate.

Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

Just as I have devoted my attention and learning to work with very young children and their families, I also have a deep love for all wildlife. As far back as I can remember, I have had a special feeling and concern for animals. I happened to read a book about a mini donkey who had been rescued by the author. The book is ‘Running with Sherman’ by Chris MacDougal. I was not only touched by his story but found many similarities with the donkey’s nature and that of very young children. Donkeys have an undeserved reputation for being stubborn and have been historically mistreated over centuries while being beasts of burden for humans. However, I learned that a donkey isn’t stubborn, it just has a mind of its own, and for good reason. Once you’ve earned a donkey’s trust, it will happily join in with you upon being asked, particularly when you are able to help the donkey feel what you are asking is its own idea. Donkeys have a good reason for hesitating before engaging. They are desert animals and have extremely keen perceptions with hearing, vision, and scent and are naturally attuned to be on the lookout for danger, refusing to move until they’re certain the coast is clear. I recognized a similarity in the nature between very young children and donkeys when they are made to do things that they are not ready to do. When the motivation does not come from ‘within’, everything becomes a battle, and they are labelled ‘stubborn’. My mentor, Dr. Garland O’Quinn who I trained with in Developmental PlaySkills, had a saying for parents and teachers. It’s called ‘The Three T’s. Things…Take…Time. With our children, and with our four-legged friends, we are invited to find loving, fun, encouraging and thoughtful ways to respect their need to find the ‘motivation from within’. And this can take time. While researching about donkeys for my character Stubby, in my new storytelling album, I learned that sadly, thousands of donkeys are abandoned every day and meet with a rather unfortunate end. There are hundreds of donkey rescue farms around the country that need donations and homes for these donkeys to go to. Maybe you’d like to rescue a donkey or sponsor one with your family! I can’t fit a donkey where I live but I sponsor a donkey in Pennsylvania named Big Clyde. He’s my sweetheart.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

I am hoping that my new storytelling album, The Adventures of Little Stubby, will give early childhood learners and parents a new skill to try when they feel overwhelmed, uncertain, nervous, or afraid. I wish I had been given such a tool when I was growing up! When Stubby reaches a ‘moment’ in the story, and isn’t sure what to do, he stops… and counts slowly to three to help him feel relaxed. Afterward, he finds that he feels a bit better and can make up his own mind about how to go on. In my teaching I often find many moments when I can offer such tools and help guide a child, or a whole group of children through to another state of sensitivity, kind of like a reset button. It is always a deeply gratifying moment.

Are there three things or are there things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Regarding the cause of helping the plight of unwanted donkeys, families can find out about rescue farms in their state and donate or sponsor a donkey. Also important, is to help children and families and communities learn about these amazing, patient, loving animals. Many rescue farms have days when families can come to visit and interact with the donkeys, and volunteer time with grooming, cleaning, and caring. And donkeys are used as therapy animals for children and adults who need a trusting hand. Of course, if you can adopt a donkey to take home that would be amazing! Here are some donkey rescue farms I am familiar with as a way of getting started!

Little Longears

1079 Turkey Pit Road

New Oxford, PA

Save Your Ass Longear Rescue

23 Saw Mill Road South

Acworth, NH 03607

Turning Pointe Donkey Rescue

216 North Meech Road

Dansville, MI 48819

Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue

Little Brays of Sunshine

Hudson Valley Donkey Park

Ulster Park, NY

Foster Hill Farm

21 Stafford Street

Stafford Springs, CT 06076

Why do you think music in particular has the power to create social change and create a positive impact on humanity?

Music and storytelling have the capacity to open our feelings and allow a natural flow of movement, listening, and vocal expression. The movement vocabulary we acquire by age 10 is what we will take through life and music helps young children explore lots of ways to express themselves and broaden their movement and expressive vocabulary. Music relates to the part of the brain that is intuitive, sensitive, and receptive and has the potential to help a child feel the intimacy and mystery of their own internal senses. Music can be an invitation to experience being part of something greater than oneself, part of the deeper feelings that otherwise may not appear. And, of course there is one very special music that we need to search for in order to hear, and that is the music of silence, particularly when shared together with another.

In Mr. Rogers’ words: “Music is the one art we all have inside. We may not be able to play an instrument, but we can sing along or clap or tap our feet. Have you ever seen a baby bouncing up and down in the crib in time to some music? When you think of it, some of that baby’s first messages from his or her parents may have been lullabies, or at least the music of their speaking voices. All of us have had the experience of hearing a tune from childhood and having that melody evoke a memory or a feeling. The music we hear early on tends to stay with us all our lives.” The World According to Mr. Rogers.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?

That the music market was changing and what once would have been a career that might bring in a reasonable income had rapidly changed to a career with little capacity to make a living outside of teaching!

That it would be so expensive to write and record and produce music of a quality that was important to me — to manufacture, to release, to market, to bring in my band to play, and to bring in Larry Alexander, Grammy winning co-producer and audio engineer who has been the rock behind all my projects!

That I would have to carry so much equipment around from one place to another to teach and perform!

That working with the birth to five age group meant that every three years or so my entire audience and clientele would age out and I’d have to start all over again to attract another new audience!

And that my husband would believe in me and support me and continue to encourage me to keep on making music and animations and books and stories, including The Adventures of Little Stubby, no matter what!

You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I continue to be passionately interested in how children learn, and in our current culture I feel sad that TV and video have taken such a dominant role. As I release this new storytelling album, I fear that without video accompaniment, it may not be heard. With all the amazing options we have through the internet I’m concerned that we are creating viewing addiction in children, and it is clearly not the best activity for the developing brain. I see toddlers in strollers holding their parents’ cell phones and watching video animations and games. How have we let this happen? Children need lots of hands on, proprioceptive experiences, including handling books and musical instruments, balls and scooters, dolls, and kitchen playthings so they can learn about themselves and their bodies. I learned of a study done by a group of architects who were to design the best possible play space for kids. They researched all the possible toys and objects available and after exhaustive study, decided that children needed two things in order to play best: water and sand! Couldn’t we find a way, on a national scale, to bring more serious awareness to parents of the hazards of offering video and TV to children 5 and under? I too have created videos and animations for children to accompany my music and stories and have tried to be certain to use very few edits and to have longer periods of running time to soften the influence of the medium. And I have been careful as a mother to limit viewing time as my kids were growing up even though it was a constant battle. TV and video should never be used as a replacement for direct, real life experiences and I would wish we could better spread the word.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“Listen to the silence behind the noise.” From Peter Brook

I didn’t hear Peter Brook say this until later in my life, but it seemed to bring everything together. We can’t ever make the noise stop, neither the noise inside our own head, nor the noise in the outer world. But we can begin to understand that there is a vast silence that lies behind all things and can be heard at times even amidst all the noise of living. I believe that children hear the silence when they’re first born. and in their very early years. And I sense that donkeys hear the silence behind all things as well in their vast, enduring patience.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I guess it would be Rafi! Rafi is one of my favorite children’s music performers. I admire all his wonderful work with kids of all ages and would be delighted to sing and talk and write with him!

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Sukey Molloy of PlayMove&Sing Is Helping To Change… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.