Seated circularly at the exterior of a vibrant tie-dyed blanket, the enthusiastic collective shook maracas, beat drums, maneuvered bells, and shimmied tambourines.
The focus was not on perfect time-keeping and rhythm but rather exuberant, cathartic expression.
And in that regard, the performance was spectacular.
Moments before, the youngsters fashioned lyrics for their masterpiece-in-the-making: words straight from the heart that offered a peak into the hidden worlds of the heart and soul.
“Sometimes when I’m scared, I feel nervous and get goosebumps. And so I turn to the people I love.”
Tragically, for every member of this youthful grass-roots musical collective, there is at least one less loved one to turn to.
It’s that bond that this week brought 15 children to Steelworks Center of the West for Sangre de Cristo Community Care’s Good Grief! Kid’s Camp.
This annual enterprise offers children up to the age of 13 an affluence of activities designed to heal and lift up, encourage and embolden, by bringing to light the darkness left by the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent and even a family pet.
Through song, breathing exercises, science projects and similar hands-on engagements, the children were encouraged to share their feelings, so often banished and hidden, so that healing can continue.
Or in some instances, begin.
“The purpose of the camp is to allow kids to talk about feelings related to their grief. And to talk about their loved ones,” explained Crystal Gerlock, bereavement manager for the hospice. “It’s important to get some of that stuff that’s been sitting in there out.”
Children who have suffered a loss through death often have great difficulty in expressing the unseen, and often debilitating, whirlwind of emotions.
“Kids don’t sit there and talk about it like adults do,” Gerlock continued. “But when they get into some activities, and start doing some things, then they tend to open up and talk more.”
Universal language that it is, music proved to be an irresistible catalyst for the little ones to express, through word and rhythm, that which is often too painful to address.
“We’re going to write a song using a song recipe,” announced Becky Bressan, Sangre de Cristo Community Care’s certified musical therapist and camp “bandleader.”
“So I want you all to tell me about your feelings.”
With the prompt came a wealth of offerings.
Anger, sadness, “scaredness” and “fun-ness,” joy, confusion, happiness.
“But I can’t really explain my feelings,” a tyke admitted.
Bressan, of course, had an ace up her sleeve.
“Who here likes music?”
“I do,” a boy replied almost immediately. “Because music has powers.”
“And music has the power to be involved in every single culture there is,” a fellow camper added.
“I feel the same way,” Bressan said. “So what do you think most songs you hear on the radio are about?”
The answer was the very reason for the grief camp.
“I think we can say that most songs are about what people are feeling,” Bressan told the children. “So let’s write our own healing song.”
With Bressan presenting a minor-key chord progression the children found admirable, the next step was to complement the pattern with words.
To do this, the amiable musical therapist gently guided the little ones on an inner journey.
“I have a chorus, but I need some help with it,” Bressan began. “So far, I have, ‘There is all this stuff inside me,’ and then I have like a blank spot…”
Within moments, that spot was occupied by the telling line, “And all of it is feelings,” followed by the Bressan-penned, “It’s hard to know what to do; I think feelings are messy, do you?”
The song’s foundation in place, Bressan turned to the children for suggestions of feelings that should form the core of the verses.
Optimistically, “happy” and “excited” were the most suggested offerings, with “tired,” “scared” and “bored” reflecting the other side of the emotional spectrum.
The verses, chorus and structure in place, Bressan’s strums on the acoustic guitar were immediately joined by a joyful cacophony of percussion instruments that showed little regard for precision.
But plenty of regard for unbridled merriment.
A first take, however, proved to be unsatisfying for nine-year-old Raymond.
“It needs bells,” he told Bressan.
With Bressan carrying the melody and the little ones holding down the groove — Raymond was on bells, naturally — “The Healing Song” enveloped the shaded courtyard area like a welcome summer breeze.
For Raymond, expressing his emotions through an original song was just what the doctor ordered.
“I lost my father two years ago,” Raymond said, his lively green eyes temporarily losing their luster. “And it made me very sad. We went to see our Nana and all of us cried very hard.
“But this song really helped me take care of my grief. It felt like I was releasing everything I have inside.”
The bells, Raymond said, made all the difference.
“I think this song is a hit,” he said. “You’re probably going to hear it on the radio one of these days.”
Chieftain reporter Jon Pompia can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at twitter.com/jpompia. Help support local journalism by subscribing to the Chieftain at chieftain.com/subscribenow